Posts Tagged ‘frank tipler’

Victor Stenger debates William Lane Craig on the existence of God

20/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher analyses an occasion where for once William Lane Craig gets a proper pasting.

I have referred to this debate countless times on my own blog and comments on other blogs that I thought it was high time I supplied all the links together with all my comments in one post.

Victor J Stenger, American cosmologist, atheist and author of Has Science Found God? The Latest Result for the Search for Purpose in the Universe and God, The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist debates Christian apologist William Lane Craig at the University of Hawaii in 2003 on the motion “Is there a God?”

The YouTube video (which goes to audio-only for the cross-examination, closing statements and audience Q&A) starts here:

The whole debate is available to download as an MP3 audio.

Analysis

Opinions among the commenters at Debunking Christianity and on YouTube are divided, but personally, I think for once Craig received an absolute flogging!  Stenger may not be a great showman, but what he lacks in flare, he more than adequately makes up for in authority and clarity.

William Lane Craig ought to be easy to beat in a debate since he uses exactly the same arguments every time, but frustratingly he is not.  This is due in part to many of his opponents failing to research his arguments and tactics properly, but also because Craig has a range of dirty tricks up his sleeve.  One of such dirty trick is to shift the burden of proof onto his opponent when he is the one making the positive claims.

However, Stenger skilfully refutes every single one of Craig’s lame “arguments” and presents positive reasons for non-belief over and above mere the absence of evidence for God.  Craig fails to respond to three quarters of Stenger’s opening address: the failures of revelation, the ineffectiveness of prayer, the existence of non-believers, and the absence of special knowledge in the Bible.  Stenger even trashes him in areas that one would think would not his forte, such biblical scholarship.

In his first rebuttal Craig actually agrees with Stenger that naturalistic explanations are preferable to supernatural explanations, but then argues that when naturalism falls short, we have no alternative but to resort to a supernatural explanation.

So basically Craig’s cosmology boils down to, “The zeros after the decimal point are too many, it’s all too complex and improbable for my tiny mind…  I’VE GOT IT!!!  It must have been The Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Known Maker!”

Stenger runs so many rings around Craig that this is the only debate where I have not heard Craig finish his closing statement by preaching to the audience how JC changed his life forever and that they should try reading the New Testament as well.

Make sure you listen to the tape all the way through to the Q & A after closing statements because Stenger even manages to steamroller Craig on his biblical scholarship thus: “Dr Craig continually talks about ‘majorities of scholars’.  I don’t know where he takes these polls.  Does he take them at Bob Jones University?!”  Genius!

Highlights

I’ve published the transcript of Stenger’s three main speeches on another post, but listen carefully at the following points on the audio where Stenger produces some real gems:

32 minutes Stenger demonstrates philosophically that the mere existence of the universe is evidence against God!
38 minutes Stenger points out that saying “God did it” is about as useful as saying “Santa Claus did it”.
39 minutes Stenger sticks two fingers up to NOMA by informing us that the world’s greatest scientists do not see God with their telescopes, microscopes and other powerful instruments.
42 minutes Stenger points out that we’ve waited too long for JC’s Second Coming and it just ain’t gonna happen.
46 minutes Stenger cites the failed double-blind prayer experiments and imagines an alternative universe where doctors prescribe “prayer aspirin”.
68 minutes Stenger rubbishes Craig’s argument from improbability by asking what is the probability of God and then showing that every person’s very existence is stupendously improbable without requiring any supernatural aid.
70 minutes Stenger asks why we would automatically expect “nothing” rather than “something” if God does not exist and why there is God rather than nothing.
71 minutes Stenger puts paid the notion that modern cosmology confirms Genesis (!).
102 minutes Stenger exposes Craig’s “arguments” as nothing more than gap theology.
108 minutes Stenger would come out of retirement at the prospect of the all the funding opportunities that scientists would be presented with if evidence of a personal creator God were discovered.
110 minutes Stenger movingly shows up Craig’s rancid theodicy for what it is by saying that he would gladly accept eternal punishment if he could stop the suffering of a child dying in agony of leukaemia if he had the power.  So why won’t God?
114 minutes Stenger floors Craig on his argument from “the universal opinion of modern scholarship”.
122 minutes Stenger wonders how the hell Craig can possibly know what he has just said!
143 minutes Stenger quotes the Good Book to show that God admits that he is the cause of evil (Isaiah 45: 7).  Further along Craig appeals to “context” and “translation” to show that the passage should not be taken literally.  The King James Version is not the inerrant edition of the Bible, I take it?  Biblical scholarship FAIL!
152 minutes Stenger tells Craig that most of the evil and suffering in the world most certainly does not come from humans.  And child torture and the Holocaust are wrong.  With or without God.

Finally!  One of Craig’s opponents who actually did his homework, which alas Christopher Hitchens did not.  Why, I do not know.  Hitchens bangs on about how great Stenger’s God, The Failed Hypothesis is and even wrote the foreword for the paperback edition.  He ought to have re-read it in preparation for meeting Craig, since Stenger demolishes Craig’s arguments within its pages!

Stenger and the New Atheism

Stenger has recently published a booked called The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason where he summarises the arguments of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens and his own in the God debate as well as the often underhanded attempts by religious apologists to refute them, such as misrepresenting what they actually say and quote-mining prominent atheist scientists to give the impression that they support theism.

I haven’t read Stenger’s new book for myself, but I’d recommend this recent lecture where he comments that he refuted Craig’s cosmological argument during their live debate on the basis that Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time recanted his and Roger Penrose’s earlier thesis and now state that the universe did not begin with a singularity known as the “Big Bang”.  According to Stenger, Craig is clearly “lying” to his scientifically ignorant audiences by continuing to use the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

William Lane Craig and evolution

In years gone by Craig has been non-committal about his belief in the truth of Darwinian evolution.  In his 2007 debate in London against British embryologist Lewis Wolpert, author of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, Craig stated that he neither believed nor disbelieved in evolution, but reserved his opinion on the grounds that the evolution of Homo sapiens may have been so “improbable” that there simply isn’t enough time for the process to be completed before the sun burnt out.

As Wolpert pointed out at the time, this is complete nonsense.  However, in the last year or so Craig has hardened his scepticism towards evolution and has turned around its plausibility as only he knows how.  During his debate against Christopher Hitchens at Biola University in April, Craig cited John Barrow and Frank Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle stating that there were ten stages in human evolution each of which were so “improbable” (!) that the amount of time required to complete the process would be so great that our sun would have ceased to become a main sequence star and exploded into a red giant.

In Craig’s world, if evolution did occur it would quite literally be a miracle and therefore evidence for God’s existence.  This next clip is from another event, but it is virtually identical to what Craig said in his debate against Hitchens:

Since then, Craig has become what he claims a tentative advocate of Intelligent Design “Theory” and debated theistic evolutionary scientist Francisco Ayala at Indiana University on 5 November 2009.  Contrary to the fawning opinions of certain Craigophilies, Ayala did reasonably well against Craig.  I’m not going to review that debate as well but Ayala is a lecturer, not a debater.  And besides, Craig did his job for him by using fallacious reasoning by arguing that end products of unguided genetic mutations are too improbable and therefore an invisible, undetectable, unknowable designer is a rational alternative.

Stenger actually corrected this flawed argument in their debate six years ago.  From Stenger’s first rebuttal:

Argument from improbability

In this argument and other arguments about the design in the universe, Dr Craig claims that the universe and life are too improbable to be solely natural.

The improbable happens

However, this is a fallacious argument.  To use probability to decide between two alternatives requires a comparison of the probabilities of each alternative.  Dr Craig claims that these natural probabilities are exceeding low.  But he hasn’t told us anything about what the supernatural probabilities are and yet it’s a comparison of these two that must be made.

What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated?  What’s the probability that there’s an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing but undetectable­ super-being behind all of this?  Complex things are common.  We see natural events every moment.  We’ve never seen a supernatural event.

Furthermore, 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 that 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 with Adam and Eve, you are going to get a fantastically small number.

To use words that Dr Craig has used before, “Improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.”

Well, Dr Craig has a mind-reeling, incomprehensibly low probability – a priori probability – for existing.  Yet here he is before us today.

Modern versions of the argument from design – both the fine-tuning argument and the intelligent design argument – share this fatal flaw.  They are based on the idea that natural causes can be ruled out by some arbitrary notion of low probability.

My point is that Craig has been told that his arguments from fine-tuning and improbability are fallacious on many occasions.  Outright dishonesty – in effect, “telling lies for God” – is the only inference to the best explanation we can draw in respect of his pronouncements.

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William Lane Craig Provides the “Scholarly” Basis for Holy Horror

27/09/2009

WLC2

manicstreetpreacher finally has his answer as to what one of America’s top Christian apologists has to say about the butchery of the Old Testament.

IsraelitesCanaanites

Is the good loved by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the gods?

– Plato

Earlier this year, I reported on the Craig/Hitchens debate at Biola University.  I had been wondering about Craig’s views on evolution for a while, but during the debate he finally revealed that he did not accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.   According to Craig’s “science” based on John Barrow and Frank Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, evolution was so “improbable” (surely Craig’s favourite word in the English language) that the sun would have burned out long before Homo sapiens could have evolved.

Craig has stiffened his position in the last couple of years.  During his 2007 debate in London against embryologist Lewis Wolpert, author of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Craig stated  that he “neither believed nor disbelieved” in evolution, but had reservations over it on the grounds of improbability.

In the Hitchens debate, however, Craig rubbished evolution completely.  I suppose it was the only way he could overthrow Hitchens’ “98,000 Year Wait Gambit” that in order to believe Christianity in the light of what we now know about the origins of the human race, you have to believe that Homo sapiens crawled painfully on their hands and knees for tens of thousands of years with low life expectancy and massive infant mortality with God watching with folded arms before finally intervening with a human sacrifice in a very remote part of the Middle East, the news of which still hasn’t permeated large parts of the civilised world.

As I wrote at the time, even to me as a non-scientist this was “a load of anthropic bunkum”.  Richard Dawkins convincingly argues that the Anthropic Principle is similar to evolution: it is an alternative to the design explanation.  We on Earth just happen to be lucky that our planet possesses the right “Goldilocks qualities” of being “just right” for life to emerge.  After all, physical parameters ought to be irrelevant to an omnipotent God; he could have designed us to survive in a cold, hard vacuum if he wanted.

In addition, Craig appears totally ignorant of the fact that evolution is about small steps producing gradual, but ultimately massive change over very long periods of time.  Improbable, my foot!  Far from Craig “following the evidence wherever it leads” as he is so proud of saying, he is massaging the scientific evidence to ensure that his fantasy of the universe being designed with him in mind can remain in tact.

My other great Craig-curio was what he thought of the atrocities of the Old Testament.  Craig teaches at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University where I understand that the students are taught that the Bible is free from error in all its words.  I’ve always wondered what Craig made of the God-ordered massacres of the Old Testament, however, in the debates I have seen up until now; he has always cordoned off that topic.

I was mildly disappointed that Hitchens did not tear Craig in half like he usually does at the lectern.  Craig smugly declared himself the victor of that clash.  However, as good as it would have been to see Hitchens wipe the floor with his opponent he showed Craig as a right-wing fundamentalist.  It was almost like watching Ted Haggard or Pat Robertson adopt the guise of a “serious scholar” as Craig harped on about the Gospels’ promise of eternal life as embodied in the resurrection of Jesus.

Continuing this gradual breaking down of Craig’s shell, I recently came across this audio clip of Craig on YouTube replying to The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation author Sam Harris (homepage / The Reason Project) and his objections to the barbarism of the Old Testament:

You will note that Craig says that rather than being an argument against the existence of God, the violence in the Old Testament that was apparently mandated by God is a question of whether the Bible is inerrant.  It is open to debate as to whether the Israelites correctly interpreted the word of God in slaughtering all those poor Canaanites.

However, Craig well and truly lets his veil slip by stating that the Israelites were carrying out the will of God in dispensing with his enemies after emerging from 400 years in Egyptian captivity!  Craig admitted that their acts would have been immoral but for the fact that they were ordered by God.  The acts of murder and genocide became moral because God had ordered them.

Craig even admits that God has the right to end the lives of everyone on Earth this second if he so chooses.  Talk about self-imposed slavery!

I couldn’t believe my ears and wanted further proof that this really was Craig’s view.  After all, this is a man who argues that objective moral values such as the wrongness of rape and torturing a child can only come from God and therefore the existence of objective morality is an argument for the existence of God.  As Craig puts it:

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

Seeking further evidence, I came across this article on Craig’s ironically titled website, Reasonable Faith, written in response to a couple of email questions on the violence of the Old Testament and discovered that it just keeps on getting worse.

For your shock, if not your consideration:

[T]he problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives.  The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them.  Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder?  No, it’s not.  Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.  The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

God can do anything.  Even make genocide morally right:

On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command. [My emphasis]

This segment clearly demonstrates that Craig knows that murder, rape and torture are wrong independently of any divine command.  But he says that they can be morally right if ordered by God as per Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma quoted at the head of this article.

Do you see what Craig has done there?  He has totally undermined his own argument that without God there can be no objective morality!

Craig goes on to explain that the destruction of unclean races by a super-race favoured by God is a virtuous thing (three guesses who tried to put that one into practice in the last century?):

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

The murder of children is all fine and dandy as long as we think that God wants it.  It was for their own good and they’ve actually gone to a better place:

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

But please spare a thought for those poor child murderers:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Someone please pass me a bucket.  I’m about to blow chunks over all this moral relativism:

But then, again, we’re thinking of this from a Christianized, Western standpoint.  For people in the ancient world, life was already brutal.  Violence and war were a fact of life for people living in the ancient Near East.  Evidence of this fact is that the people who told these stories apparently thought nothing of what the Israeli soldiers were commanded to do (especially if these are founding legends of the nation).  No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes.

It always brings a smile to my lips when apologists claim that God can be the only source of objective morality, yet when a sceptic pulls out a nasty passage from the Good Book, they go all relativist on you and say things like, “Well ok, but things were a lot different back then.  Genocide, rape and slavery were the norm…”

No, genocide, rape and slavery were not morally right, even for people living 3,000 years ago.  Perhaps books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy were the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of their day when simply compiling a short list of reasons to kill your enemies was an improvement over the general barbarity of the time.  But values such as self-sacrifice, charity and love were still admired while murder and rape were reviled.

If we are unable to say that it was morally wrong of Moses to issue an order to his troops, as Thomas Paine put it in The Age of Reason, “to butcher the boys, massacre the mothers and debauch the daughters,” (Numbers 31: 13 – 18) then conversely, we cannot say that him leading the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was morally right either!

Craig’s response continues by contending that Osama bin Laden has it soooooo wrong:

Now how does all this relate to Islamic jihad?  Islam sees violence as a means of propagating the Muslim faith.  Islam divides the world into two camps:  the dar al-Islam (House of Submission) and the dar al-harb (House of War).  The former are those lands which have been brought into submission to Islam; the latter are those nations which have not yet been brought into submission.  This is how Islam actually views the world!

No, Dr Craig, those nineteen pious men who showed your pious nation the social benefits of this level of blind faith on 11 September 2001 were not trying to convert anybody that day.  They were exacting what they saw as retribution from their god for America’s decadence and moral depravity.  Rather like the Israelites exterminating the Canaanites in fact.  If you are in any doubt as to this, perhaps you should take a look at this clip from two men whom you worryingly resemble:

Craig’s final conjecture can only be settled once and for all by force of arms:

By contrast, the conquest of Canaan represented God’s just judgement upon those peoples.  The purpose was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism!  War was not being used as an instrument of propagating the Jewish faith.  Moreover, the slaughter of the Canaanites represented an unusual historical circumstance, not a regular means of behavior.

The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God.  If the Muslim thinks that our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, then I agree with him.  But Muslims and Christians differ radically over God’s nature.  Christians believe that God is all-loving, while Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims.  Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners.  Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately.  Moreover, in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature.  He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind.  By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands.

The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God?

Why don’t you and the Muslims settle it once and for all by stepping outside, Dr Craig?  This has clearly been the approach of certain Jewish rabbis in the upper quarters of the Israeli Defence Forces which continue to this day, not least during Israel’s military strikes against the Palestinians at the start of 2009.  As Hitchens reported in March this year:

I remember being in Israel in 1986 when the chief army “chaplain” in the occupied territories, Rabbi Shmuel Derlich, issued his troops a 1,000-word pastoral letter enjoining them to apply the biblical commandment to exterminate the Amalekites as “the enemies of Israel.”  Nobody has recently encountered any Amalekites, so the chief educational officer of the Israeli Defense Forces asked Rabbi Derlich whether he would care to define his terms and say whom he meant. Rather evasively – if rather alarmingly – the man of God replied, “Germans.”  There are no Germans in Judaea and Samaria or, indeed, in the Old Testament, so the rabbi’s exhortation to slay all Germans as well as quite probably all Palestinians was referred to the Judge Advocate General’s Office. Forty military rabbis publicly came to Derlich’s support, and the rather spineless conclusion of the JAG was that he had committed no legal offense but should perhaps refrain in the future from making political statements on the army’s behalf…

Now, it’s common to hear people say [that violent passages in the Bible are] not intended to be “taken literally.”  One also often hears the excuse that some wicked things are done “in the name of” religion, as if the wicked things were somehow the result of a misinterpretation.  But the nationalist rabbis who prepare Israeli soldiers for their mission seem to think that this book might be the word of God, in which case the only misinterpretation would be the failure to take it literally.  (I hate to break it to you, but the people who think that God’s will is revealed in scripture are known as “religious.”  Those who do not think so must try to find another name for themselves.)

Possibly you remember Dr Baruch Goldstein, the man who in February 1994 unslung his weapon and killed more than two dozen worshippers at the mosque in Hebron.  He had been a physician in the Israeli army and had first attracted attention by saying that he would refuse to treat non-Jews on the Sabbath.  Now read Ethan Bronner’s report in the March 22 New York Times about the preachments of the Israeli army’s latest chief rabbi, a West Bank settler named Avichai Rontzski who also holds the rank of brigadier general.  He has “said that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath … is to avoid exposing Diaspora Jews to hatred.”  Those of us who follow these things recognize that statement as one of the leading indicators of a truly determined racist and fundamentalist.  Yet it comes not this time in the garb of a homicidal lone-wolf nut bag but in the full uniform and accoutrement of a general and a high priest…  The latest news, according to Bronner, is that the Israeli Defense Ministry has felt compelled to reprimand Rontzski for “a rabbinal edict against showing the enemy mercy” that was distributed in booklet form to men and women in uniform (see Numbers 31: 13 – 18).

At least Craig is correct when he says at one point in the article that many Old Testament scholars are sceptical that the conquest of Canaan was an actual historical event, but that’s hardly the point.  The Bible is supposed to be a document containing timeless social and moral codes while portraying the actions of people we ought to admire.  In this exercise, it fails miserably.  As he and Hitchens discussed in their Biola debate, Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov wonders whether “without God, all things are possible.”  But as Hitchens argued, surely the corollary is true: that with God, all things are thinkable as well.

If one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists can issue such a grotesque defence of Yahweh that contradicts all of his own arguments for the divine source of human morality at a stroke, then it is unsurprising that PhD graduates in the 21st century will fly aeroplanes into buildings believing that they are morally right to do so and will be rewarded by God in the afterlife.

I don’t say that all religious people are mad, bad or sad per se, but they very often can be when it comes to their religious beliefs.  As the Nobel Laureate physicist Steven Weinberg famously once said, “With or without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things.  But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

William Lane Craig is living proof of this.

UPDATE 06/04/2010:

Since publishing this piece, I have come across a podcast on this topic as part of the “Reasonable Faith: Conversations with Dr William Lane Craig” series that Craig’s website produces  if you can bear it.  Lukeprog over at Common Sense Atheism has posted an excellent discussion.

I have also found this comment by Richard Dawkins posted on the debate forum of his website:

Theological justification for genocide Part One

Richard Dawkins >> Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:22 am

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

One of our commenters on another thread, stevencarrwork, posted a link to this article by the American theologian and Christian apologist William Lane Craig.  I read it and found it so dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful that I wanted to post it again.  It is a stunning example of the theological mind at work.  And remember, this is NOT an ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘picking on the worst case’ example.  My understanding is that William Lane Craig is a widely respected apologist for the Christian religion.  Read his article and rub your eyes to make sure you are not having a bad dream.

Richard

That just about says it all.

(H/T: Steven Carr)