Posts Tagged ‘god’

Addendum to “William Lane Craig Provides the ‘Scholarly’ Basis for Holy Horror”

06/04/2010

As part of my three posts reassessing Christopher Hitchens’ debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig held at Biola University on 4 April 2009, I have added the following text to the end of my piece on Craig’s take on the morals of the Old Testament God.

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)

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…

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: From Darwin to Hitler?

21/03/2010

Part Four of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines the film’s claim that Darwin’s theory directly inspired Hitler and 20th century eugenics.

The final quarter of the film makes the outrageous allegation that Darwin’s work directly inspired Hitler and eugenics.   The host, Ben Stein, visits Darwin’s former home of Down House in Kent and his memorial at the London Natural History Museum.  He visits the Dachau concentration camp and Hadamar Clinic where he interviews the tour guide Uta George and Richard Weikart, Discovery Institute research fellow and author of From Darwin to Hitler.

I haven’t read Weikart’s book, but I listened to this lecture and was distinctly underwhelmed by the tenuous links made between the ancient idea of eugenics and Darwin’s theory.  Darwinism describes a scientific process for which there is ample evidence.  Whether we like its moral implication is irrelevant and Weikart is guilty of the naturalistic fallacy; confusing “what is” with “what ought to be”.  Weikart’s arguments rely heavily on some disgraceful quote-mining of Darwin’s work, more of which below.

Weikart also ignores a wealth of other social, economic and indeed religious factors that resulted in the rise of Nazism.  For excellent refutations of his thesis, I came across his radio debate against atheist Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, as well as Avalos’ extensive blog posts on Debunking Christianity here and here.

Towards the end of Expelled, Stein reads out the following passage which is often quoted by creationists from The Descent of Man, first published in 1871:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated.  We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination.  We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

However, the passage in full shows that Darwin was deeply compassionate to the handicapped and was not in favour of any euthanasia programme:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.  We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.  There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.  Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused.  Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.  The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.

There are several other passages from Darwin that creationists mine in their attempts to show that he was immoral, but reveal quite the opposite when read in their true context.  In the post-screening debate (at 43 minutes on the podcast) I asked the panel a question that drew their attention to this distortion, adding that while Darwin was about as racist as anyone else in Victorian England, he was a passionate abolitionist of the slave trade.  Surprisingly, my comments drew nods of agreement from Steve Fuller.  I also added that I have read Hitler’s Mein Kampf for myself.  It contains not one reference of Darwin, evolution or natural selection, but talks rather a lot about his faith in Heaven and the Almighty as well as his theological hero, Martin Luther.

Alastair Noble made noises about how Darwin influenced Stalin.  This claim is straight off the Answers in Genesis website and was repeated by David Robertson in our second debate on Premier’s Unbelievable? last year.  The truth is that Stalin rejected Darwinism in favour of Lamarckism which lead to Lysenko’s insane programme to grow giant vegetables and deliver multiple harvests in one year, leading to the starvation of millions:

Mendeleyev’s “periodic system of elements” clearly shows how very important in the history of nature is the emergence of qualitative changes out of quantitative changes. The same thing is shown in biology by the theory of neo-Lamarckism, to which neo-Darwinism is yielding place.

– Stalin 1906, 304

Steve Fuller replied that Mein Kampf discussed “selection”.  However, Hitler was referring to artificial selection which humans have known about for centuries.  Dog breeding and pigeon fancying have more responsibility for Hitler than On the Origin of the Species.

There is widespread confusion over Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and “Social Darwinism”, which was coined by the Protestant anthropologist Herbert Spencer, who also came up with the term “survival of the fittest”.  Although still tarring Darwin’s good name, Hitler’s ethic is better described as “Social Darwinist”.

Irritatingly, many respectable scientists and historians have linked Darwin to Nazi Germany.  Sir Arthur Keith is often quoted by creationists as writing in Evolution & Ethics (1946) that Hitler was an evolutionist and was trying to create Darwin’s utopia based on the principles of eugenics, though Keith never showed which parts of Origins inspired Hitler.  Laurence Rees’ otherwise excellent study of the Final Solution, Auschwitz, was tarnished somewhat with the assertion that the Nazis’ ideology was “expressly Darwinian”, again without citing any primary sources in support.

The full original title of On the Origin of Species is infamously “Or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”.  Again, creationists have argued that this is clear evidence that Darwin was in favour of a brutal struggle for survival where the strong would crush the weak.  However, as Richard Dawkins explained following the film’s release in an “Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein’s lying propaganda”:

Darwin was using the word “race” in a very different sense from ours.  It is totally clear, if you read past the title to the book itself, that a “favoured race” meant something like “that set of individuals who possess a certain favoured genetic mutation” (although Darwin would not have used that language because he did not have our modern concept of a genetic mutation).

The Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish pressure group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, issued the following statement against Expelled which is the first and last word against anyone claiming that Darwinism is in any way a link to eugenics or Social Darwinism:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.

Steve Fuller also argued that people who support the teaching of evolution also support abortion and euthanasia on the grounds that it will lead to a better version of humanity.  Again, I found this claim deeply offensive.  I have recently written that I am pro-choice on the grounds that the alternative is worse.  Abortion should be the last option.  Prevention is better than cure.  The answer is increased access to contraception and education as to its proper use.  I am not in favour of abortion because it is a quick and convenient method of wiping out Down’s Syndrome.

I can think of no better way to end these posts than with this compilation by YouTube auteur, Thunderf00t, that features Stein on a Christian TV network shortly after Expelled’s release making the appalling claim that “science leads to killing people”, juxtaposed with his own delusional fantasies about America needing to start World War Three in order to protect itself against Iran and North Korea.

P Z Myers couldn’t have phrased it any better:

What a vile little man.  I sincerely hope that his career is dead now … and that the rest of his life will be spent eking out speaking fees at Christian fundamentalist conventions, before audiences who will cheer him while dreaming of the day the Jews are exterminated or converted, bringing on Armageddon.

Right on, brother.

Now, a “call to arms” (in the strictly metaphorical, non-jihadist sense of the term) to all atheists, rationalists, humanists, secularists and everyone else who cares about truth in science and a proper education of school children which is free from religious dogma and presupposition: Let’s go to work.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: Arguing from ignorance

21/03/2010

Part Three of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit.

The film never sets out a definition of Intelligent Design.  The host, Ben Stein, makes noises about how teaching it to school children might be like teaching them the alternative theory of history that the Holocaust never happened, which is not what he wants.  But he fails to explain why ID is any more viable than Flat Earthery.

The closest the film comes to genuine science is some CGI sequences (which were were the subject of an unsuccessful copyright action by XVIVO having been lifted from the Harvard University DVD, The Inner Life of the Cell!)  showing the mindboggling complexity of the cellular “machinery” at work.  OK, what does that prove?  That molecular biology is enormously complex.  Cells wouldn’t always have been like that; they had to evolve from scratch the same as the larger organisms they comprise.

Atheist evolutionary biologist and blogwit par excellence P Z Myers explained during his lecture at the American Atheist International Conference 2009 (which I posted in my castigation of William Dembski’s Unbelievable? debate against Lewis Wolpert), that IDers and creationists falsely claim that Victorian scientists knew nothing about the inner workings of the cell: the sheer mind boggling complexity of the cell is a relatively recent discovery.  IDers are adamant that it will just take a few more years for the rest of the scientific community to catch up with their way of thinking and evolutionary theory as we know it will be no more.  As Myers pithily explained, “Dembski said that the bottom would fall out of Darwinism within five years…  seven years ago!”

In the post-screening debate, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher, Alastair Noble, speaking in favour of ID was a thoroughly unpleasant character, shouting down the evolutionist members of the panel and making cheap, erm, “jokes”, which played well with the clap-happy God squadders in the audience.  I can understand why evolutionists refuse to share a platform with creationists after witnessing Noble’s attempts to put off the other members of the panel.

It really does worry me that people like Noble overtaken by their religious prejudices may ensure that junk-science will be taught to school children in the near future.  Steve Fuller, who at least had the courage to admit that the school board in the 2005 Kitzmiller -v- Dover District PA “Intelligent Design trial” which he testified as an expert witness for the Intelligent Design side, were using ID to get creationism into the science classroom by the backdoor.  They were really creationists who didn’t believe in ID; they just saw it as a convenient tool.  I’m certain that Noble sees it that way as well.

Noble kept insisting (loudly) that only Intelligent Design could account for abiogenesis since the only known source of new information was an external designer.  Intelligent Design, like the fine-tuning of the universe argument is simply Paley’s watchmaker analogy wrapped up in scientific jargon, usually ending with a whole lotta zeros after a decimal point.  It explains nothing since it only leads to another stage back in the infinite regress and only begs the question of who designed the designer.  It is a classic case of arguing by over-extended analogy.  The very language of Intelligent Design screams “argument from personal incredulity”.  Phrases like “irreducible complexity” are an inadvertent code for, “it’s too complex, we can’t understand it, therefore God did it”.

David Hume refuted the design argument 250 years ago on the grounds that we are taking our knowledge of how things for which we have direct personal experience are created, such as houses and watches, and applying this experience for things that we have no such equivalent personal experience, such as eyes and universes.

Intelligent Design is also fatally flawed in that it declares by fiat that a powerful but invisible designer is the only escape from staggering complexity and improbability.  What ID proponents singularly fail to answer is what is the complexity and probability of such a designer itself, let alone being responsible for the natural phenomena we see around us.  Surely this designer would have to be even more complex if it has the power to create all the things with which it is credited.   Therefore its existence would have to be even more improbable than the objects and organisms it is supposed to have created.

While Sue Blackmore was giving her opening statement, a heckler in the audience asked why no “skeletons” had been found to verify evolution.  I felt like bashing my head on the desk in front of me.  Clearly, there are certain memes in creationist circles that simply will not go away no matter how often they are refuted.  Such as:

  1. If humans are descent from apes, why are there still gorillas and monkeys alive today?
  2. Why have no transitional fossils been found?
  3. Why don’t we see apes giving birth to humans?
  4. Evolution is just a theory.
  5. Darwin inspired Hitler!

The fourth and final post of my analysis examines whether the last point has any credibility.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: Conspiracy? Cover-up? Expulsion?

21/03/2010

Part Two of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether “Big Science” is suppressing the theory of Intelligent Design.

The film presents six ID proponents who claim that they lost their jobs and/ or university tenure for entertaining thoughts that involved an intelligent creator due to the evil atheistic evolutionary science elite.  However, this is a mere smoke and mirrors ploy by the ID crowd.  Scratching below the propaganda shows that the supposedly expelled scientists either did not loss their positions at all, or lost them for legitimate reasons.

Expelled alleges that Richard Sternberg lost his position at the Smithsonian Institute and the National Institute of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIH) after publishing a paper by Dr Stephen C Meyer of the Discovery Institute which mentioned Intelligent Design as a possible explanation of the origins of life on Earth in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.  Stein says that Sternberg was “terrorised” and his life was “nearly ruined” following the incident that probed deeply into his religious views.

Nevertheless, this article from Skeptic magazine, as well as Sternberg’s page on Expelled Exposed, shows that Sternberg had in fact deliberately by-passed the publication process of the PBSW and went behind the backs of his colleagues by sneaking in Meyer’s shoddy paper which had previously been reviewed by scientists and had its claims firmly rejected.

Sternberg was in fact an unpaid associate – not an employee – at the Smithosian Institution (as opposed to “Institute”; Expelled doesn’t even get the names correct of those it libels!).  After the Meyer incident, Sternberg remained an employee of NIH and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian was extended in 2006, although he has not shown up there in years.  At no time was any aspect of his pay or working conditions at NIH affected.  He was never even disciplined for legitimate violations of PBSW or Smithsonian policy.  It is difficult to see how his life “was nearly ruined” when nothing serious happened to him.

This is a typical creationist tactic: to give the false impression that evolutionary scientists are dogmatically opposed to new ideas.  The film sets up a false impression of two opposing viewpoints, when in fact there are many, many differing interpretations of the evidence.  Just witness the heated disagreements between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould over whether evolution happened gradually or in fits and starts.

During debate following the first screening Susan Blackmore, psychologist, atheist and expert on Meme Theory reminisced about when she was convinced that paranormal forces were real following her own “out of body” experience.  She pursued the possibility obsessively in the face of her detractors, but had to accept that her experience was neurologically induced after many painful years of facing the evidence, or indeed the lack of evidence.

Keith Fox, a theistic evolutionary biologist from Southampton University also hauled the film up on its bogus portrayal of science as atheistic and that many devout Christians have no trouble reconciling their faith with Darwin.

Contrary to the impression of theists, scientists do not religiously adhere to Darwinian evolution.  If you demanded fifty grand from the editor of Nature to pay for a peer-reviewed paper that falsified evolution or amended it significantly, he would probably give it to you in used twenties.  Physicist Victor Stenger summed it up best during his debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig in 2003:

Most scientists share my view.  Are we being too sceptical?  Are we being dogmatically unwilling to entertain the possibility of a personal creator God?  I don’t think so.

There are many examples in the history of science that demonstrate its willingness accept ideas that challenge conventional wisdom.  But the data must require it.  In the early twentieth century the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionised some our most basic concepts about the nature of reality.

I think most scientists would be thrilled if evidence were founded for previously undetected materials and forces.  Think of all the funding opportunities that would open up.  I would come out of retirement.

But even if that were to happen, I doubt that the world that was then being uncovered would bear any resemblance to the fantasies from the childhood of humanity that constitute traditional religious belief.

Amen.

For further edification regarding the true stories behind the other five “expelled”, see the following pages on Expelled Exposed:

Guillermo Gonzalez: The Discovery Institute co-author of The Privileged Planet didn’t have such a stellar career after all and his output in recent years fell short of the tough requirements for tenure at American Universities.

Caroline Crocker: Never mind “mentioning” Intelligent Design in one of her classes, Crocker received multiple complaints from students at George Mason University for teaching demonstrably false creationist material.  But she was never even fired for clear breaches of academic and contractual obligations and there is no evidence that she was “blacklisted” from other institutions.

Robert Marks: Robert Marks’ “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website – touting intelligent design – was originally hosted on a Baylor University server. Concerned that the material on the website misleadingly suggested a connection between the intelligent design material and Baylor, administrators temporarily shut the website down while discussing the issue with Marks and his lawyer. Baylor was willing to continue hosting the website subject to a number of conditions (including the inclusion of a disclaimer and the removal of the misleading term “laboratory”), but Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms. The site is currently hosted by a third-party provider.

Pamela Winnick: No evidence was presented in Expelled that Winnick was blacklisted as a journalist, and there’s evidence to the contrary.  She may have been criticised for her shoddy journalism or for advocating bad science – Jeffrey Shallit describes her book as “not a fair, reliable, or objective look at the battles between science and religion,” for example – but it is insupportable and absurd to characterise such criticism as blacklisting.

Michael Egnor: The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution”, to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences.  Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine.  This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.

The next post will ask whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit as a scientific theory.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ – A Review

21/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher is dismayed to announce the arrival in the UK of the Intelligent Design racket.

As previewed, a few weeks ago, I attended the first screening and debate by Premier Christian Media of the Intelligent Design propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at Imperial College London on 27 February 2010.  Accompanying me were a friend who happens to be a secondary school science teacher and Evil Burnee, Paul S Jenkins, who has also posted a write-up of the event.

The Saturday, 20 March 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? airs the first post-screening debates and broadcasts extracts.  Speaking for ID was Dr Alastair Noble, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher Steve Fuller, Professor of sociology at the University of Warwick.  Speaking against ID were Keith Fox, Professor of Biology at Southampton University and Chair of Christians in Science and Susan Blackmore, Visiting Professor of Psychology & Memetics, University of Plymouth.

My question to the panel about Expelled’s claim that Darwin’s ideas influenced Hitler’s ideology is at 43 minutes on the podcast.

The second post-screening debate can be downloaded from the Unbelievable? features page. The speakers were Dr Alastair Noble and Dr Vij Sodera, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons advocating Intelligent Design and Prof Keith Fox, Biology, Southampton University and Dr Thomas Dixon, History of Science, Queen Mary London University who advocate Darwinian evolution.

My treatment of the film and debate will be divided in four separate posts:

  1. Expelled overview – The remainder of this post will give some general thoughts about the film and post-screening debate.
  2. Conspiracy?  Cover-up?  Expulsion? – Are atheistic evolutionary scientists aka “Big Science” deliberately suppressing a fledgling theory that has genuine merit?
  3. Arguing from ignorance – This post answers whether ID is a credible scientific theory in the resoundingly negative.
  4. From Darwin to Hitler? – My fourth and final post counters Expelled’s claim that there is a link between Origins and Dachau.

Film review

Judging by the laughter and applause from the audience, the screening was attended mainly by religious believers.  In my personal experience, religious people will laugh and applaud anything and there was a depressing level of laughter and applause for this piece of creationist trash.

At 90 odd minutes, it’s not overly long.  But at least half the running time is taken up by constant cuts to other images as if to help the audience understand the points being made: Western gunfights, people being beaten up and, most insultingly, images of concentration camps and the Berlin Wall, which Richard Dawkins dubbed a “Lord Privy Seal” (LPS).  These grew extremely tedious before the halfway mark.

In the post-screening debate, American-born Warwick University sociologist, Steve Fuller, tried to justify the LPS as being no different to a Michael Moore film.  Faint praise indeed.  But since, Fuller then went on to take a cheap shot at David Attenborough as having such a clear evolution bias he was ruining TV science programming, I don’t hold the man’s opinion in a very high regard.

There was also the utterly ham-fisted presentation of atheist scientists and commentators.  Dan Dennett, P Z Myers, Christopher Hitchens (who has one line) and Peter Atkins came off reasonably well.  However, Michael Shermer and Michael Ruse’s interviews were butchered in a manner that would embarrass YouTube’s cassetteboy.

For example, Ruse attempts to explain that one of the theories of the origins of life is the theory proposed by the Scottish chemist, Graham Cairns-Smith, that organic life was preceded by a strange and intriguing world of replicating patterns on the surfaces of crystals in inorganic clays.  This cuts to a voiceover of the film’s host, Ben Stein, incredulously asking whether we have abandoned science fact and have strayed into science fiction, and there is an irritating LPS of a wild-eyed fortune teller exclaiming, “Crystals!”  As with all creationist debates, the object of the exercise is not to prove anything scientific whatsoever, but to discredit the evolutionary scientist in front of the cameras.

Similarly, when a representative from one of the academic institutions is interviewed trying to explain why one of the “expelled” lost their position, Stein colours the mood against him in narration by saying, “We couldn’t get him away from his script”.

Richard Dawkins’ interview is the worst.  He is made up to look like a mad scientist with his normally neat hair looking like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  While Stein is stepping out of his black cab en route to the interview, Dawkins is shown being powdered by the film’s production team (Dawkins’ web and recording guru, Josh Timonen wrote afterwards that Dawkins never wears make up for public appearances) and is then made to wait as Stein turns up late.  He is shot in dim light.  In his appearances before the main interview he is accompanied by ominous music.  Sadly, there is worse to come.

After Dawkins reads out the (in)famous passage at the start of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion (“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction…”), Stein asks him if that’s what he really thinks of God.  Dawkins gives a suspiciously curtailed, “Yep”.  I wonder what they left on the cutting room floor.

Dawkins then attempts to explain the circumstances he would consider an intelligent designer being responsible for the creation of life on Earth.  In an attempt to give ID its best hypothetical shot, Dawkins answers that it could have been an extra-terrestrial intelligence, but of course we would then have to ask where that intelligence came from and so on; the infinite regress would continue until an evolution-type natural process explained how the first alien intelligent designer arose.

Naturally, the interview is cut so as to make Dawkins look as stupid as possible; as if he is seriously suggesting that an alien spaceship landed on Earth and planted the first seed of life.  Stein says in narration that Dawkins is bending over backwards to avoid bringing God into the equation: he would rather it be little green men than the Almighty.

Dawkins gave the true story behind the interview at his address to the American Atheists Conference 2009, the relevant extract of which is below.  For the video, the scene from the film itself is replaced by dialogue cards so as not to risk a copyright action from the producers.

For about two-thirds of the film, Expelled maintains a straight face that ID is a scientific proposition and a credible alternative to evolution.  However, for the last 10 minutes, the curtain is well and truly raised to reveal the film’s true agenda to the sound of The Killers’ gospel-tinged “All These Things That I’ve Done”: to bring God into science classrooms so we can all praise him for his wondrous creation.  Permit me just this one LPS:

Following the debate, Expelled’s UK DVD distributer, Mark Haville (who incidentally has posted a 5 star review of the Expelled DVD on Amazon UK without stating his interest!), of NPN Videos read out a prepared statement which hinted at a campaign in the coming weeks and months to lobby and legislate in order to bring Intelligent Design to the fore.  May [Spinoza’s] God have mercy on us all.

In the meantime, I can only recommend sites like Expelled Exposed, which was set up by Eugenie Scott of the American National Center for Science Education to refute the film’s claims and protect the reputations of the people and institutions misrepresented in the film.  There are also plenty of “alternative versions” knocking around the torrent pages with voiceover narrations and subtitles correcting the lies.

The next post examines whether there is any truth behind Expelled’s claim that “Big Science” is unjustly suppressing ID.

Michael Shermer debates David Robertson on whether Christianity is good for us: Premier Christian Radio, “Unbelievable?”, 20 February 2010

25/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher to Michael Shermer:

I have of course had multiple encounters with Pastor David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, Scotland, author of The Dawkins Letters.  For the Saturday, 20 February 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? Robertson debated Michael Shermer, head of the American Skeptics Society and author of numerous books debunking all things paranormal and pseudo-scientific, such as Why People Believe Weird Things and Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.

The debate focuses on the comparative levels of charitable giving, happiness, well-being, mutual respect and trust and attitudes towards slavery and gay rights between believers and non-believers.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the debate, and I’m certainly not posting this to gloat at Robertson (who I consider a personal friend of sorts after our encounters), but he is an extremely tough debating opponent.  While I was satisfied with how I came off in my debates against him, I took as many hits as I scored and tripped over my own arguments on a couple of occasions, particularly on evidence an atheist would accept as evidence for God in Show One and the moral argument in Show Two.

Shermer on the other hand is a seasoned pro and has heard it all before and will do so a thousand times again.  While I in my reckless youth tend to take more of an all-guns-blazing approach at the microphone, Shermer is far more laid back in his citing of peer-reviewed journal papers, opinion polls and tried-and-trusted philosophical arguments.

These were especially effective against Robertson’s arguments which seemed to be based largely on personal experience of visits to “Sweden’s atheist utopia” where apparently people are much less willing to sell you a drink than the Americans.  Shermer is going to withhold judgement until he runs the experiment for himself.

I particularly admired the way Shermer put paid to the popular notion that Christians lead the fight against slavery by pointing out that William Wilberforce and John Newton were in the minority of Christians who opposed the practice when the established Anglican and Catholic Churches were defending it.

In a similar vein to how Christianity has a posteriori claimed the moral high ground in respect of abolition, Shermer predicts that the current firestorm over gay marriage in the USA will be resolved in the next 20 years or so to the benefit of homosexuals.  While today the most vehement opponents of gay marriage are Christians, as with slavery, Christians will surely single out the few of their number who supported gay marriage and hold them out as leading the fight for equal rights!

I will credit Robertson for contributing to a high-brow discussion and for once not playing the “Hitler and Stalin were atheists” card while giving a nod to the crimes committed by the Christian Conquistadors against the indigenous people of the Americas; a Holocaust in its own right.  Perhaps MSP’s email to him in response his comments following Brierley’s coverage of the Dawkins/ Grayling I2 debate on atheist fundamentalism had a small part to play in that.

The two places where I thought Robertson really fell down was in his closing remarks where he accused the secularists as “living in a fantasyland” before going on to say in the same breath that Christians know that they will not live in a utopia until they get to heaven.  Right.

In addition, Marx and Engels never said that “religion is the opiate of the people”.  This is in fact one of the most common out-of-context quotes of all time.  The full quote from Marx’s introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.  To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun.  Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

Don’t let Christopher Hitchens hear you say that one, David!

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