Posts Tagged ‘bart ehrman’

Hitchens on bloggers

25/09/2013

The above clip is features comments from the late Christopher Hitchens in 2006 on bloggers in general and the anti-Hitchens blog, Hitchens Watch, in particular.  Hitch makes clear his disdain for bloggers and damns them as failed writers who have not found a publisher to disseminate their dross, but have found a method of getting their dross in the public domain through the blog.

I have to say that I agree entirely with Hitchens to the extent that I put myself firmly in this category.  I don’t think I have published anything on this blog that is worthy being put on paper and into a book.  I have restricted myself to discussing and by and large repeating the words of the New Atheists: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, in addition to a few other popular science and philosophy writers such as Bart Ehrman, Michael Shermer and Victor Stenger.

I have been attacked for my continual reliance on the New Atheists, which has been branded a form of “hero worship”.  My responses variously are that “there is nothing new under the sun”, or to quote Isaac Newton that “I stand on the shoulder of giants”, or Ibn Warraq in Why I Am Not A Muslim that if you see my work as an extended bibliography of the works of others, I will not take offence.

I admit that I am relying on the works of popular writers whose books have sold by the million and whose lectures and debates are freely available on YouTube.  There are plenty of bloggers who trawl the obscure reaches of the Internet and their public libraries and write convincingly about topics that do not feature on ABC’s Nightline Face-Off.  However, their work is still based on the writings of others rather than their own original research.  Am I being any less original in my attacks on religion every time I cite a bestseller like god Is Not Great than when I rely on a lesser known work such as The Bible Unearthed?

Paradoxically, I have a great deal of respect for scientists and philosophers I have never even heard of; perhaps more so than bestselling authors.  As Eric Rothschild, chief counsel for the plaintiffs at the 2005 Kitzmiller –v- Dover PA “Intelligent Design Trial”, observed of Michael Behe’s claim in Darwin’s Black Box, which he repeated on the witness stand, that the immune system is irreducibly complex:

Thankfully, there are scientists who do search for answers to the question of the origin of the immune system… Their efforts help us combat and cure serious medical conditions.  By contrast, Professor Behe and the entire “intelligent design” movement are doing nothing to advance scientific or medical knowledge and are telling future generations of scientists, don’t bother.

Nevertheless, following a sabbatical from blogging of over two years, I am making a conscious effort to move away from the New Atheists and read and write about other topics, such as happiness, relationships, humour and cinema.

I once read of blogs that more people want to write them than want to read them; another statement with which I concur whole-heartedly and include myself.  For me, blogging is an outlet for my thoughts; it has given me meaning and purpose in my godless life.  Currently, this blog gets between 40 and 60 views a day.  It is reward enough when I publish a new post if this tally spikes slightly, I get a “like”, an encouraging comment or a notification from WordPress that someone else is following my blog.

I also accept that I have a penchant for hyperbole and make viciously angry attacks on my opponents such as William Lane Craig – who I have repeated branded a liar – that would surely be the first thing that any decent editor of a reputable publishing house would remove.

Yes, I think if I ever moved into “serious” writing and courted a publisher to disseminate my writings on good, old fashioned paper, the first thing on my “2-Do” list would be to delete this blog.

Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola

06/04/2010

The third and final part (Part I / Part II) of manicstreetpreacher’s reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig will examine the “emotional blackmail factor” that pervades Dr Craig’s case for the Almighty.

When Craig is not appealing to flawed logic, he appeals to common sense and inner feelings to guilt trip his audiences into accepting his arguments as this last post will demonstrate.

Argument from objective morality

After name-dropping atheist philosophers like Michael Ruse who contend that morality is just a by-product of evolution and universal norms such as the wrongness of rape and torturing children have no deeper meaning than assisting our survival, Craig argued that human morality is objective and therefore must come from God with nothing more than “the problem is that objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it” to back it up.  As he phrases it:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore God exists.

Both of Craig’s premises are flawed, so his conclusion is invalid.  Firstly, objective morals could well exist without God.  They could be hardwired into our genes as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  So clearly, Craig’s first premise is incorrect.

However, objective moral values de facto do not exist.  Not everyone has the same moral standards.  Our perception of what is right and wrong have changed over the centuries with Richard Dawkins has termed “the shifting moral Zeitgeist”.  Indeed, practices in other parts of the World today which are considered the height of piety seem barbaric to Westerners.  You only have to look inside the books of our religions and see what these pronouncements mandate to see that this is the case.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the moral argument for God is just rank wishful thinking, (how this differs from all other arguments from God, I am not entirely certain).  Perhaps it would be wonderful if there was a list of rules set in stone somewhere in the metaphysical universe, but I simply don’t see any evidence for it.  We just have to feel our around, sometimes getting it right, sometimes making mistakes, always striving for a state of moral perfection regardless of whether that will ever be achieved in reality.

I really wish that Hitchens had raised Craig’s appalling views on the morality of the God of the Old Testament.  I had been very suspicious of Craig declaring the atrocities of the Israelites’ slaughter of the Canaanites to be off-limits in debates, since it was a question of biblical inerrancy, not whether God existed.  I found my answer in an appalling radio interview and then with an article on Craig’s website which I commented on a few months after the Biola debate in which Craig argued that since God sets down moral values, he can arbitrarily overrule them with the result being that murder, torture and ethical cleansing are suddenly all fine and dandy.  Therefore, the Israelites were acting entirely in accordance with the will of God in exterminating the Canaanites and the Bible’s inerrancy is unaffected.

I won’t repeat my piece here; I suggest that it is read in full, but it is a stunning indictment of the theological mind which totally undermines Craig’s argument from objective morality, since he knows that murder, torture and genocide are wrong independent of God’s commands.  It is also a graphic illustration of Plato’s “Euthyphro Dilemma”: if God tells you to torture a baby, it becomes morally right and indeed obligatory to torture a baby.

Resurrection of Jesus

A key component in Craig’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus is that his followers would not have believed in a dying and rising Jewish messiah, much less have died for that belief.  For his second rebuttal after cross-examination, a clearly weary Hitchens invoked Tertullian’s maxim credo quia absurdum: “I believe it because it is absurd”.  He recounted his research on Mother Teresa and the circumstances surrounding her thoroughly discredited post-death miracle that will see her canonised by the Vatican and will in fact contribute to the misery and suffering of millions in the Third World by promoting shamanism and devaluing modern medicine.

A fair point, but I have seen Hitchens do much better on the historical Jesus.  Check out these two clips from his debate against D’Souza at Freedom Fest 2008 in Las Vegas.

On the historical Jesus and the criterion of embarrassment:

On the virgin birth and potency of the story:

Craig is basing his argument on discredited sources that are self-contradictory, written decades after the events that they purport to describe, copied and re-copied over centuries by fallible scribes with their own theological axes to grind.  And as we shall see in the next section, this is not even the reason why he believes in the resurrection at all.

Argument from personal experience

In his opening speech, Hitchens quoted from two editions of Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith, where Craig argues that a person knows that Christianity is true because the “Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit” assures him that it is true.  Whereas reason and evidence can be used to support this proposition they cannot be used to overthrow it.  A person has enough assurances from God with regard to his existence and the consequences that will be metered out for rejecting belief in God are entirely on the shoulders of the non-believer.

Although Craig’s response to this in his first rebuttal was somewhat convoluted, I cannot see how he refuted Hitchens’ interpretation, or even amended it significantly.  According to Craig, all belief in God entails is a warm fuzzy feeling inside that there has to be something more than this veil of tears and all arguments and evidence in support are wholly ancillary.  Atheist theologian Robert Price summed up Craig’s stance perfectly in their 1999 debate on the resurrection:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

Craig said that Hitchens had to show that he is delusional; otherwise his belief in God through personal experience is still valid.  Again, this is a prime example of Craig placing the burden of proof on his opponent.  Without access to Craig’s medical records (I’ll avoid making the cheap shot that they would make for interesting reading!), this is an impossible task.

Nevertheless, people have all sorts of personal experiences that seem real to them: out of body, alien abduction, near death.  Without any corroborating evidence, the sceptic is perfectly justified in writing them off as deluded, not matter how sincere they are.  Indeed, virtually all of these experiences can be reproduced on subjects in the lab under control conditions.

So what sort of evidence would corroborate personal religious experience?  As Victor Stenger points out in God, The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism, perhaps if someone returned from such an experience with some new knowledge in their heads that they could not have otherwise obtained except through the agency of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural being.  If Craig really does have a hotline to the Big Guy in the Sky, then I don’t know why he hasn’t found a better way to spend his evenings than arguing with miserable heretics like Hitchens who are all fire-bound anyway.

Perhaps personal experience of God is something I will address in a future post, but for now I’ll direct Craig to Sam Harris’ take on the argument from meaning and purpose with his “Diamond The Size of a Refrigerator Buried in Your Back Yard” Gambit for him to realise what a risible non sequitur his reasoning is.

The last “Hussar!”

The debate moderator, Hugh Hewitt, posed the final question of the evening to Hitchens and asked why there was such a high public demand for debates on the God question at present.  Hitchens’ reply was that he is part of a small group of people who want to take a stand against theocratic bullying from Islamist regimes in the Middle East who are soon to obtain nuclear weaponry, terror attacks against civilian non-combatants by Al-Qaeda, fanatical Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians to bring on the Messiah and fundamentalist American Christians who want junk taught in school science classes.   For the first time that evening, Craig had to wait politely as the audience’s applause died down before he could retort.

Hitchens may well have wanted to debate the wrong topic that night.  The New Atheism may well be a form of “village atheism”; hostile to the social effects of religion rather than appreciative of the subtle nuances of theological “scholarship”.  But I’ll conclude these posts with a thought from my original piece after first watching the debate that I definitely stand by:

I could accept every one of Craig’s five arguments; you still have all your work ahead of you convincing me that the Pope, the holder of the keys of St Peter, Christ’s vicar on Earth is objectively moral to go to Africa and say, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.  This is a sinister and immoral aspect to religion that interests me more than the mere existence of God and the truthfulness of the scriptures; one which Hitchens tackles head on, but Craig wilfully evades.

Craig may have won the battle.  But the outcome of the war might not be so rosy for him.

Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William

05/04/2010

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.

William Lane Craig –v- Christopher Hitchens: Second Thoughts

04/04/2010

With his 100th post 😮 manicstreetpreacher begins his reassessment of a notorious debate as he tries to figure out where his hero went wrong.

Craig was flawless and unstoppable.  Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab.  Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.

So went the verdict of the web’s most fawning atheist Craigophile, Lukeprog, over at Common Sense Atheism a year ago today in respect of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, at Biola University on the motion “Does God Exist?”.

Luke subsequently commented that his piece was linked all over the web.  Craig himself quoted it in his post-debate newsletter to his flock.  Lee Strobel quoted it in his foreword to Craig’s latest apologetic, On Guard.  I linked to it in my original comment piece back in June last year when the Biola DVD hit the torrents sites.  I’m certainly not giving Luke the satisfaction of linking to it again here.

I have mixed feeling about my original piece.  After the damning verdict against Hitchens on the blogs was clearly exaggerated, I wanted to stick up for the guy.  At the same time, my blood was very much up that he had let Craig get away with so much and smugly declare that his five pathetic “arguments” for God’s existence were unassailable and that his opponent had provided no evidence or argument that God did not exist, that it turned into an ad hominem rant against Craig.

I originally titled it “We should all feel very sorry for this man”, which irritatingly still appears when the post is automatically generated by WordPress as a “possibly related” post.  I even made some very unkind remarks about Craig’s spindly hands that since he is obviously close to punching his last ticket, he is dreaming of eternal life next to the Father’s right hand more than usual but will be sorely disappointed.  “What a great analysis,” I thought when I hit “Publish”.  Until one of the post’s first commenters pointed out that Craig suffers from a neuromuscular disorder that affects the appearance and movement of his hands.  Damn.  It has been my most reviewed and re-edited post.

So one year after the actual debate, I have taken a step back and watched the tape again with the benefit of having seen and heard a lot more lectures and debates by Craig.  The remainder of this post and my second and third posts will present what I now think.

Hitchens and Craig meet at the Christian Book Expo

Two weeks before their debate, Hitchens sat on a panel with four Christian authors: Craig, Douglas Wilson, Lee Strobel and Jim Denison at the 2009 Christian Book Expo held in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, 21 March 2010.  The debate moderated by Christianity Today writer Stan Guthrie, who in reality turned into a sixth discussion participant.

The full audio of the discussion can be downloaded here; the full tape video is uploaded to YouTube below.

Hitchens dominated the discussion and received most of the airtime and audience questions.  However, in his closing remarks, Craig baited him by saying that his arguments amounted to “I don’t like it”, as opposed to “I don’t believe it’s true” and condescendingly asked him to engage more with him and his cohorts’ wonderful arguments in their upcoming debate at Biola.  In an Apologia podcast immediately afterwards, Craig sounded incredibly pleased with himself, saying that Hitchens did not have the “intellectual capacity” to answer his arguments.  The clip with Craig and Hitchens interviewed can be listened to here.  Following the encounter, the blogs predicted a beat down for Hitchens at Craig’s hands, including former student of Craig and evangelical preacher turned atheist author and blogger, John W Loftus.

Letters from Biola

I’ll come right out and say that Hitchens lost the debate.  No two ways about it.  While he didn’t come off as badly as Lukeprog’s infamous sound bite implied, he simply didn’t prepare enough in advance to answer Craig’s arguments.  Hitchens is more concerned with the social effects of religion.  Craig wanted to argue over its truth and after all, that was the debate’s motion.  Craig boasts a great delivery at the lectern.  He compresses his points very well and splits his arguments up piecemeal.  Hitchens sears, flows and mixes it all up into one.  He also has a habit of making “throat-clearing” precursors before answering points.

Even so, I had severely underestimated Craig.  A very few others aside, I had only seen his debates against Bart Ehrman and Victor Stenger which were the two occasions when he had been convincingly beaten.  Having now seen and heard many more of his debates, I can see that Craig does not debate his opponents has such, but executes premeditated hit-jobs on them.  Craig makes a point of not debating anyone without a doctorate.  He made an exception with Hitchens, who has been a visiting professor at several universities, but as far as I know does not hold an actual PhD and during the debate, Craig referred to him as “Mister” rather than “Doctor” or “Professor”.   Was this an attempt on Craig’s part to discredit the leading debater of the Four Horsemen?  Very possibly.

Craig employed every single one of his dirty tricks at Biola: scientific distortion, quote-mining of authorities, dropping in as many points as possible, patronising and intimidating erudition, demagogically pandering to the audience… the lot.  It can take ten times as long to answer a question than to ask it.  Craig fires out arguments in quick succession and then chides his opponent for failing to answer all of this arguments and objections.  He also presented straw man versions of Hitchens’ own arguments, which took up a great deal of Hitchens’ time in his rebuttals, only for Craig of course go on and then say that Hitchens had not properly refuted his original arguments!

Craig also constantly appeals to authorities.  During the Hitchens debate he quoted external sources no fewer than 19 times!  However, he is extremely selective in the way that he uses quotes.  In their debates against Craig on the resurrection, Bart Ehrman and Bishop John Shelby Spong exposed Craig’s use of authorities on New Testament scholarship who in reality are deeply opposed.

Richard Dawkins was quite right to refuse publically a debate against Craig on the grounds that the man is simply a “professional debater” rather than a proper academic worth taking seriously.  Hitchens was too respectful and had clearly been taken in by the Craig hype, as his slightly nervous demeanour at the pre-debate press conference showed.

So with the dust well and truly settled, let’s take a look at Craig’s arguments now he is unable to hide behind his debating tricks.  My next post tomorrow will begin the deconstruction of Craig’s arguments and tactics piece by piece.

William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman debate “Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?”

26/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher presents the best example of when William Lane Craig received a beat down on the rising Son of Man.

I intend to post a reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig at Biola University that took place on 4 April 2009 and which I commented on after seeing the DVD.

Hitchens did not come off very well from that encounter.  However, Craig’s first debate on the existence of God against physicist Victor Stenger at the University of Hawaii in 2003 is my first port of call when I need an example of when Craig received a spanking on that topic.

Craig’s debate against agnostic New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, author of Lost Christianities, Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem, which took place at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts on 28 March 2006 on whether there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the occasion I recall when I need an example of when Craig received equivalent treatment on this topic.

Transcript

Audio (Irritatingly cuts off a few questions before the end so that Craig wins the final point.)

Full video tape:

As with practically all debates, opinion on the blogosphere is divided.  But my money is that Ehrman won convincingly.  His off-the-top-of-his-head knowledge of who has said what when in the dense world of New Testament scholarship is a joy to hear.  He skilfully exposes Craig’s highly selective and dishonest citation of scholarly authorities who are actually in deep conflict.  Ehrman also has a superior knowledge of similar mythologies of dying and rising Gods and wallops Craig for his second-hand ignorance of Apollonius of Tyana.

The debate is most notable for Craig’s ridiculous attempt in his first rebuttal to overthrow David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles” and demonstrate the probability of miracles using calculus (!) as well as disgracefully and demagogically labelling his PowerPoint slides “Ehrman’s Egregious Error” and “Bart’s Blunder”.  This example of mathematical posturing is put in its proper place by atheist number-cruncher John Allen Paulos in Irreligion who recounts an amusing fable that perfectly sums up Craig’s approach:

Catherine the Great had asked the famous French philosopher Denis Diderot to her court, but was distressed to discover that Diderot was a vocal atheist.  To counter him, she asked the mathematician Leonhard Euler to confront Diderot.  On being told that there was a new argument for God’s existence, the innumerate Frenchman expressed a desire to hear it.  Euler then strode forward and stated, “Sir, (a + bn) / n = x.  Hence God exists.  Reply.”  Having no understanding of math, Diderot is reported to have been so dumbfounded he left for Paris.

I seriously doubt the story, but it is perhaps suggestive of how easily nonsense proffered in an earnest and profound manner can browbeat someone into acquiescence.

Unlike Diderot in the story, Ehrman wisely brushes aside Craig’s underhand tactic and doesn’t let it distract him.  He keeps his arguments simple and concise and has no need to appeal to authorities.  Ehrman himself is the authority!

Craig is so clearly an evangelist masquerading as a serious academic and Ehrman proves it by hammering him on his commitment to biblical inerrancy as a professor at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology.  Craig wilfully evades Ehrman’s questions of whether he thinks that there are errors and contradictions in the New Testament.  Unbelievably, he also continues to flog the dead horse of his four “facts” surrounding the resurrection, despite Ehrman providing perfectly rational explanations that they are most likely later additions to the text.

Predictably, Craig finishes his final rebuttal with a plug for the warm fuzzy feeling he had a teenager when he gave his life to Christ.  Ehrman calls him out on it in his reply: Craig has reached his conclusions before he has even begun his research and wants everyone else to share in his religious beliefs.  As Craig himself writes in his ironically titled Reasonable Faith, a person knows the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is true because of God’s assurance to the reader that it is true: reason and evidence can be used to support the inner witness, but they cannot be used to overthrow it.  Robert Price summed it up perfectly in their debate on the same topic:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

In conclusion, William Lane Craig is a clever debater, but that does not mean his arguments are sound or even sincere.  He is very beatable.  Stenger proved it on the existence of God, while Ehrman proved it on the supposed resurrection of his son.

Now for a second look at the Hitchens debate…

Dawkins refuses to debate William Lane Craig

13/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher hopes that this old chestnut can finally be put to rest.

Further to my report on the Intelligence Squared debate at Wellington College on 29 November 2009, someone has edited together a YouTube clip of Richard Dawkins being asked why he refuses to debate William Lane Craig with Dawkins replying that it takes more to persuade him to share a platform with someone than that person just being a “professional debater” and he is “busy”:

Well done, Richard!  I have already given my thoughts here and here on Craig being a complete hack whose five “arguments” have been corrected repeatedly, yet he still continues to use them.  The only aim of the apologists is for Craig to use every dirty trick in his arsenal to make Dawkins look silly and thereby discredit the man rather than having to face the burden of actually answering his arguments.  As John W Luftus over at Debunking Christianity puts it:

Debates are like boxing matches.  No intelligent person thinks that the issues are solved depending on who wins a debate.  No one.  But debates are entertaining and educational.  The debaters are sparring, yes.  We like to watch them.  They want to win.  We want our man (or woman) to win for our side.  But they are like boxing matches.  And Dawkins is the leading atheist in our generation.  So Christians are acting just like the supremacists did back in Jack Johnson’s day.  “Knock Dawkins out,” they’re saying.  “Embarrass him.”  “Show the world our Christian man is better than your atheist man.”  “They’re a minority and so let’s keep them in their place.”  In Johnson’s day it was a fight between the races. This is a fight between skepticism and faith.

Craig has a totally arrogant, patronising and belittling style at the lectern whose only desire is to make fools out of his opponents, as this clip from his 1998 debate with Peter Atkins (YouTube Part 1) attests:

The clip demonstrates most of Craig’s underhand tactics: dropping in too many points than his opponent can possibly answer in the time allowed, straw-manning said opponents’ arguments, gross scientific distortions (he’s dead wrong about the Special Theory of Relativity’s assumption of the speed of light; while we cannot observe it directly going at a constant from A to B, we can make many different predictions about what would happen if that were the case, and verify them which is how we know it’s true), placing the burden of proof on his opponent when he is the one making the claim, discrediting the scientific method (but only when it suits him) without providing any positive arguments as to how faith answers these questions any better and generally being a condescending tool to some of the world’s most respected academics.

Late conservative commentator William F Buckley Jnr being an utterly biased moderator doesn’t help, but Craig doesn’t actually humiliate Atkins at all.  Like most of Craig’s opponents, Atkins is clearly dumbfounded by the idiocy of the man in front of him!

But even with such a wealth of dishonest tricks up his sleeve, Craig is very beatable as long as his opponent has done their homework (which, alas only a select few atheists bother to do!) and present positive reasons to reject belief in God.

I recommend watching and listening to Craig’s debate against Victor Stenger at University of Hawaii in 2003 for a clinical annihilation of his arguments for the existence of God (the video cuts out after first rebuttals, but Stenger comes out with some gems during cross-examination, closing statements and the audience Q & A).  Bart Ehrman thoroughly debunked Craig’s arguments on the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, of which you can read the transcript while while watching or listening to the tape.

Unreasonable Faith: William Lane Craig

21/06/2009

WLC

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer

manicstreetpreacher analyses the apologetics of William Lane Craig following his debate with Christopher Hitchens at Biola University, 4 April 2009.

I used to hate William Lane Craig.  I first saw him debate one Professor Mike Begon at Liverpool University in 2007.  Unfortunately his opponent on that occasion did not know enough to refute Craig properly and was far too passive; playing for the draw as opposed to the win.  Craig walked all over him.

Since then, I saw Craig debate several other atheists and my loathing of him grew and grew.  His style was far too lazy; trotting out the same five “arguments” in respect of God’s existence and the same four “facts” in relation to Jesus’ resurrection.  I also found him thoroughly pompous.

In arguing that objective morals can only be grounded in God, Craig made the grotesque assertion that “an atheist cannot say that torturing children for fun is wrong”, when of course someone who will torture a child – possibly not for fun, I grant you – but certainly because they feel that they are objective moral in so doing will do it precisely because they acting in accordance with God’s will.  Female circumcision anybody?

When I first heard that Craig and Hitchens were going to debate on 4 April 2009 at Biola University, I very nearly bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles to see it for myself.   Hitchens is by far my favourite writer/ speaker/ public commentator at the moment.  I can’t get enough him verbally and logically crushing an opponent at the lectern.  I was looking forward to the prospect of him giving Craig similar treatment.

Therefore, it was with great dismay that the newspaper reports and the blogs gave a resounding victory to Craig.  Hitchens was, they said, too rambling and unfocused, evasive of Craig’s arguments and going off on his own tangents.  One atheist blogger commented, “Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child”.

Oh God, how could you have let this happen?

I was dreading watching it for myself.  My agony was only prolonged by Biola University guarding the video like a jealous child.  Bootleg clips and recordings were swiftly banned from YouTube.  I eventually saw the full video after downloading it from a torrent website.

Whilst it is true that Hitchens wasn’t on his usual top form, he actually acquitted himself very well.  Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.  He conducted himself with an understated dignity that I have never seen in him before.  Hitchens didn’t massacre his opponent like his usually does, but I saw something better perhaps.

Craig wheeled out the same five arguments he’s been using since the George Bush Senior administration and topped them off with his usual brand of smugness; declaring that Hitchens had failed to answer his arguments and presenting no positive evidence for atheism.  However, I don’t hate Craig any more.  If anything, I feel a little sorry for him.

I was confronted with the sight of an apparently intelligent and rational adult indulging in the worst kind of childish wish fulfilment.  This was the first time I’ve seen Craig argue so vehemently about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the promise of eternal life after we are returned to the dust.

Craig waxed lyrical about the purpose of human life is, as Hitchens rightly pointed out, to end up in some theme park in the sky.  Mark Twain once said that most people cannot bear to sit in church for one hour on a Sunday, so how are they supposed to cope being stuck somewhere very similar to it for an eternity?  Are we sure that’s what we really what?  Worshipping and singing your leader’s praises for eternity?  Sounds like hell to me!

Craig also displayed a detestably Richard Swinburne brand of theodicy.  When asked by a member of the audience to answer Epicurus’ objection that God is unable or unwilling to preventing evil then he is not omnipotent/ omniscient/ omnibenevolent, Craig replied that an atheist would have to show that God had an immoral purpose for allowing suffering an evil to occurring.    This is simply making excuses for your lord and master and simply shows how desperately Craig wants it all to be true and will grovel in the dust and undergo any humiliation.   He is God’s plaything and will allow himself to be abused and humiliated and be thankful for it.  I was reminded of Richard Dawkins’ tale of Swinburne arguing on a television panel debate that the Holocaust gave the Jews a splendid opportunity to be noble.  Apparently their Oxford colleague, Peter Atkins, growled at Swinburne (in an exchange that was alas edited out of the final broadcast version), “May you rot in hell!”

Craig is desperately trying to hold on to the idea that someone up there loves him, that’s it’s all about him and he will twist and distort his opponents’ arguments and declare himself to be right no matter what.  In the Hitchens debate he finally showed his true colours: he’s a fundamentalist, not an academic scholar.

After debating (actually, during the debate itself would be more accurate!) bookish Christian apologist Peter S Williams at Liverpool University earlier this year and seeing how different our approaches were, all the ontological and scriptural arguments for God’s existence seemed so trivial.  We don’t have sophist philosophical conundrums to argue for the circumference of the Earth or the historicity of the Holocaust.  We have good old-fashioned, undeniable evidence.

I could accept every one of Craig’s five arguments; you still have all your work ahead of you convincing me that the Pope, the holder of the keys of St Peter, Christ’s vicar on Earth is objectively moral to go to Africa and say, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.  This is a sinister and immoral aspect to religion that interests me more than the mere existence of God and the truthfulness of the scriptures; one which Hitchens tackles head on, but Craig wilfully evades.

Craig’s arguments, particularly the resurrection of Jesus, seem so petty and irrelevant.  As Richard Dawkins has contended, having a “skyhook” to come in and arbitrarily change the laws of nature is an affront to the majesty of the natural order.  Carl Sagan’s famous passage from Pale Blue Dot hits Craig’s nail on the head:

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe.  How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought!  The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant.  God must be even greater than we dreamed”?  Instead they say, “No, no, no!  My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

And as Hitchens pointed out in the debate, even if it were all true and could be proved beyond doubt, it changes nothing with regard to our daily lives.  All our problems would still be with us.

Craig’s style of arguing is deeply flawed.  He will only consider his five arguments and nothing else.  In the debate with Hitchens he avoided defending the Bible, stating that the immoralities of the Old Testament were irrelevant to the questions of whether God actually exists and was the arbiter of objective moral values, but was determinate of whether the Bible is inerrant and whether the Israelites had interpreted the will of God in slaughtering the Canaanites, which was “not on the table tonight”.  What we weren’t told was that Craig teaches at Talbot School of Theology at Biola which teaches that the Bible is inerrant.  I’m still waiting for a convincing answer as to how we are supposed to know which are the nice bits of the Bible that we are to follow in the 21st century.

Prolific blogger Steven Carr made a very amusing point in a dry, sardonic way that only he can with respect to Craig’s four facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus on the Premier Christian Community forum:

Craig comes up with four pseudo-facts and demands people explain them.  Imagine if people used that approach in other fields.  Suppose a Holocaust-denier came up with these four facts.  And these are real facts, unlike Craig’s pseudo-facts:

Fact 1: Hitler never signed a document ordering Jews to be liquidated in Europe.

Fact 2: No German ever recorded hearing Hitler saying orally that all Jews were to be killed.

Fact 3: The building now known as Gas Chamber 1 at Auschwitz was an air-raid shelter in 1944.

Fact 4: After the war, trained historians like David Irving and clergymen like Bishop Williamson testified that there was no systematic killing of 6 million Jews.

Now these are all genuine facts, unlike Craig’s claim that it was a fact that a person called Joseph of Arimathea (where’s that?) buried Jesus.  Imagine if Holocaust-deniers suddenly demanded that people explain these four facts, and refused to consider anything else in a debate.  Craig’s four facts approach to a debate is so bad that even Holocaust-deniers do not use that kind of logic!

In the Hitchens debate Craig drew upon John Barrow & Frank Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and posited an argument that sounds utterly ridiculous.  Apparently Barrow and Tipler give ten points that make the evolution of Homo sapiens so improbable, that if it did occur on Earth, then it would be a miracle and thus be good evidence for Christian theism.  While I would be certainly be grateful for an evolutionary perspective from any scientists reading this, even as a layman this sounds like anthropic nonsense.

I would strongly recommend a marvellous little book called Irreligion by mathematician, John Allen Paulos.  He puts paid to Craig-style tactics of frightening audiences with massive improbabilities.  The chance of being dealt any combination of cards in a game of bridge is something like 600 billion to one, but we would only say that the eventual hand was improbable if it were determined a priori.

Watch and listen to Craig’s debate from 2003 with American cosmologist, Victor Stenger, author of the superb Has Science Found God? and God, The Failed Hypothesis.  The video stops half way through, but stick with the audio and Stenger truly wallops him for his God of the Gaps mentality and on the reliability of the New Testament documents.  “Dr Craig keeps mentioning ‘the majority of scholars’.  I don’t know where he takes these polls of scholars.  You take them at Bob Jones University?!”

And a classic from Stenger’s first rebuttal:

Low probability events happen every day.  What’s the probability that my distinguished opponent exists?  You have to calculate the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg, then multiply it by the probability that his parents met, and then repeat that calculation for his grandparents and all his ancestors going back to the beginning of life on Earth.  Even if you stop the calculation at Adam and Eve, you will get a fantastically small number.

To use Dr Craig’s own words, ‘improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.’

Dr Craig has a mind-reeling, incomprehensibly small probability for existing, yet here he is before us today.

Genius!

Craig is so obsessed with probabilities that he even used Bayes Theorem to argue for the probability of miracles contra-Hume in his debate (video/transcript) against Bart Ehrman on the resurrection!  Ehrman wisely didn’t respond to all the equations and later in the Q & A section condemned such idiotic reasoning as capable only of “convincing people who want to be convinced”.

Once again, John Allen Paulos recounts an amusing fable that perfectly sums up Craig’s approach:

Catherine the Great had asked the famous French philosopher Denis Diderot to her court, but was distressed to discover that Diderot was a vocal atheist.  To counter him, she asked the mathematician Leonhard Euler to confront Diderot.  On being told that there was a new argument for God’s existence, the innumerate Frenchman expressed a desire to hear it.  Euler then strode forward and stated, “Sir, (a + bn) / n = x.  Hence God exists.  Reply.”  Having no understanding of math, Diderot is reported to have been so dumbfounded he left for Paris.

I seriously doubt the story, but it is perhaps suggestive of how easily nonsense proffered in an earnest and profound manner can browbeat someone into acquiescence.

As Ehrman rightly stated in his closing remarks in that debate, Craig is an evangelist masquerading as an historian (and certainly masquerading as a scientist!) who wants people to follow his false prophet.  I have no doubt now that he does believe all he says.

I just don’t see the point in arguing with anyone like that…