Posts Tagged ‘reasonable faith’

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…

Addendum to “The Hitler Meme”

11/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher wants to know what the hell is going on!

I have just added the following text to the beginning of my post entitled “The Hitler Meme” and invite any and all comments.

UPDATE: 11 MARCH 2010

I have been writing this blog for just over a year now.  I love blogging.  It is a very involving hobby that has expanded my mind and made me engage with a wealth of new issues relating to science, history, politics and philosophy.  I love the buzz you get when the notification email arrives when someone has posted a reply to a thread, links to one of your posts on their blog, sends a message of praise or constructive criticism.  I love the feeling of, “Perhaps this argument will make me change my mind?”

Of which posts am I most proud?  Well, my report of the Hitchens/ Fry debate on the Catholic Church in October ’09 had a lot of views and comments.  My rubbishing of William Dembski’s Intelligent Design “theory” ranks very high as well.  Just to think, I nearly gave up on it halfway through I was so bored, and then an “unsolicited” email to Dembski’s college account and it ended up on his Uncommon Descent blog not once, but twice!  Victor Stenger liked my analysis of his 2003 debate against William Lane Craig so much that he posted it on his own website and from where I get c. 20 referrals per day.  And of course there’s my castigation of Craig’s appalling interpretation of Yahweh’s commandment to his chosen people to wipe out every single one of the Canaanites of which I am rather pleased.

Are any of these my highest viewed post?  No.  My highest viewed post is THIS: the result of a rainy Saturday afternoon dossing on YouTube coming across an Internet craze butchering the best scene in a brilliant study of history’s most infamous tyrant.

Posted on 26 August 2009.  11,700 views and counting.  It’s getting ridiculous!!

The Hitchens/ Fry debate report was my PB with c. 600 views in one day.  Now it is “The Hitler Meme” which has been getting 700+ per day of late.  I really can’t explain why it is getting so many views.  No one has left a comment.  The post hasn’t been linked on any other blog or website.  My WordPress stats monitor says that viewers are finding it through the search engine term “hitler”.  Except I have searched for it on Google and it doesn’t come up in the first 10 pages of hits!?!?!?!?!?!

Anyone viewing this post now, how are you finding this page?  What’s so great about it?  Please leave some comments and put me out of my misery!

I don’t know whether to delete the post yet, but I may well do so.  This is just getting silly!  Answers in the comments box, please.

Victor Stenger debates William Lane Craig on the existence of God: Transcript of Stenger’s main speeches

20/12/2009

Another manicstreetpreacher post where the clue is in the title

American cosmologist Victor J Stenger, author of Has Science Found God? and God, the Failed Hypothesis debated the motion “Is there a God?” against Christian apologist William Lane Craig at the University of Hawaii in 2003.  You can read my analysis of the debate on another post.

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.

I found a transcript of Stenger’s three main speeches, to which I have updated and revised for inaccuracies.  No need to post Craig’s transcript.  He doesn’t say anything you haven’t heard a million times before or since!

Opening Statement: 20 minutes

There Is No God

Well, aloha.  It’s certainly wonderful to be back in Hawaii where Phyllis and I spent so many happy years.  Our children were both born in Hawaii, both graduated here from the University of Hawaii, and it’s certainly great to be back.  In fact, it’s almost exactly forty years to the day that we first landed in Hawaii and this is the first time we’ve actually visited Hawaii in all that time.  And so we’re here as tourists and now I can understand why so many people keep coming back to visit Hawaii.

I would like to express thanks to Keli’i and the other organizers and the sponsors of this debate for inviting me.  It’s certainly an honor to share the platform with William Lane Craig.  I’ve read that he is one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists and he’s given ample evidence of that today.

In his opening remarks, Dr Craig has appealed to your common sense.  You know what common sense is.   Common sense is the human faculty which tells us that the Earth is flat.   On the other hand, objective observation tells us that the Earth is round.

In tonight’s debate, I will argue that objective observation as well as reason and logic lead to the conclusion that a God with the traditional attributes of the Christian God does not exist beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I will give four arguments to support my position.

1. Attributes are self-contradictory

The attributes of the Christian God are self-contradictory.  They are like a square circle.

2. Attributes incompatible with what is known

The attributes of the Christian God are inconsistent with what we know about the world.

3. Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism

Supernatural explanations for events in the universe are unnecessary.  Natural explanations are simpler, are based on objective observations, and are fully consistent with all we know about the world.

4. God’s actions should be observable but are not

The attributes of the Christian God imply actions that should be objectively observable.  But they are not.  God has not been detected.

Attributes of God

Let me list a set of attributes that are traditionally associated with the God of the monotheistic religions, but particularly Christianity:

  1. He is the creator of the universe.
  2. He is immaterial and transcendent.
  3. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good.
  4. He is perfect in every way.
  5. Furthermore, God is a person.  He loves humans and wishes us to know him.
  6. He is forgiving and merciful.
  7. He speaks to humans, revealing truths to us that we would not otherwise know.
  8. He answers our prayers, as he sees fit.
  9. He performs miracles, violating natural laws.

Incompatible attributes

Many philosophers have argued that the traditional attributes of God are logically incompatible. Here are just a few of these:

  1. Perfect –v- Creator.  If God is perfect, then he has no needs or wants.  This is incompatible with the notion that God created the universe for some divine purpose.  Divine purpose implies that God wants something he doesn’t already have, which makes him imperfect.
  2. Transcendent –v- Omnipresent.  How can a God beyond space and time be at the same time everywhere within space and time at the same time?
  3. Just –v- Merciful.  To be just means to treat a person exactly as they deserve. To be merciful means to treat a person better than they deserve. You can’t do both.
  4. Immaterial –v- Personal.  To be a person is to have a material body, to have a brain, to have a mouth that you speak with and so on.

So a God with these attributes and many of the other attributes traditionally assigned to him does not exist.

Existence of non-belief

The God of monotheism also has attributes that are inconsistent with what we know about the world.  For example, an all-powerful, all-knowing God who also has the attribute of wanting all humans to know and love him is inconsistent with the fact that there are non-believers in the world.

The Problem of Evil

Perhaps the most ancient and strongest of the arguments for God’s non-existence is the problem of evil.  An all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God is simply inconsistent with the fact of evil and gratuitous suffering in the world.

God’s reasons for evil and suffering

Theologians have, of course, grappled with the problem of evil for centuries, and they still do.  For example, a prominent contemporary theologian Richard Swinburne says of the problem of evil:

If the world was without any natural evil and suffering we wouldn’t have the opportunity… to show courage, patience and sympathy.

Certainly, pain has a role in warning us of illness or injury.

Is so much suffering necessary?

But does God really need so much suffering to achieve his ends?  Is there any good purpose behind so many children dying every day in the world of starvation and disease; perhaps one every few seconds?  How are they helped by the rest of us becoming more sympathetic?

Logically consistent gods

Dr Craig and many other theologians have spent their lives building models of God that are logically consistent and at the same time in broad agreement with the traditional teachings of Christianity.

This has mainly consisted in trimming God’s characteristics one by one until he is defined mostly in the negative: non-material, not in space or time, not seen or heard.  Apologists have reduced God to an almost undetectable background: something like what we physicists used to call “the aether”, until we found that the aether doesn’t exist either.

I have no doubt that a logically consistent picture of some kind of God can be devised and I never claimed to disprove the existence of every conceivable God, that’s why I’ve been very careful to focus on the God with the traditional attributes of Christianity and to certain extent the other monotheistic religions as well.  While it’s possible to create a logically consistent God, I seriously doubt that this God can be made consistent with Christianity.

Computer games

In any case, these theologians and their logical consistent Gods remind me of the creators of computer games.  Programmers invent whole new universes in which the characters have all kinds of superhuman powers and many of our familiar laws of physics are violated.  Yet the rules these games are logically consistent.  They wouldn’t run on a computer if they weren’t.  But the computer game universes have little connection to the universe we see around us.  They exist in what is called “virtual reality”.

God’s actions should be observable, but are not

Just because something is logically consistent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it exists.  For the theologians’ logically consistent God to actually exist, he must have something to do with the observed universe; some attributes that can be objectively observed.  Otherwise God is as useless as the aether.

Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism

Even if a God can be devised who is consistent with logic and with observations, natural explanations for phenomena are still better than supernatural ones.  They better explain the existence of non-believers.  They also better explain the existence of believers.  They explain the existence of evil and gratuitous suffering as the unfortunate results of evolution.  They better explain the origin and structure of the universe of life, and mind.  And these notions are based on objective observations and theories that are testable.

Supernaturalism offers no explanation at all except “God did it”.  And to say “God did it”, as Dr Craig does, passes on no more information than to say “Santa Claus did it” or “the Easter Bunny did it” – it could be any entity.

Most scientists do not believe

Only seven percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in the personal God worshipped by perhaps 80 – 90 percent of other Americans.  Most scientists don’t believe in God because they don’t see any objective evidence for him!  When they look at the world around them, they see no sign of God.  They don’t see God when they peer through their most powerful telescopes.  They don’t detect God with their most sophisticated microscopes and other instruments.  Furthermore, scientists find no need to introduce God or the supernatural in any form into any of their explanatory theories.

Here are a few of the famous scientists who have been outspoken in their non-belief: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, Francis Crick; the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Steven Weinberg; perhaps the greatest living theoretical physicist, and the incomparable Carl Sagan.  Let me add that none of these scientists would not believe if they were present with sufficient evidence.

Objectively observable actions of God

A God with the attributes I have listed implies phenomena that should have been easily observable by now.  For example, let us consider three actions: revelation, prayers, and miracles.  Let’s begin with revelation.

Revelation

Most people believe in a God who has a substantial and detectable role in the universe and in human affairs.  One common characteristic attributed to this God is that he communicates with humans and provides them with verifiable new knowledge.

The theistic religions have traditionally taught that God speaks to humanity.  Their scriptures are widely assumed to be the word of God and he’s believed to have revealed knowledge to religious leaders in the past that they would otherwise not have known.  Many believe that God still does this today, speaking even to the average person.

Revelation is verifiable

Surprisingly, these claims can be easily verified­ if they are true.  All we have to do is find some fact supposedly gained by divine revelation that was unknown at the time of the revelation, and then confirm this fact at a later time.

For example, suppose the Bible had predicted that men would walk on the moon in two thousand years.  Then we would have a rational basis to take seriously what else is written in the Bible.  Unfortunately, we do not.

No revelations

No revelation of previously unknown knowledge has ever been empirically validated.

The scriptures contain nothing that could not have been known to or imagined by the ancients who wrote them.  The Bible reads exactly as we would expect it to read, based on existing knowledge at the time it was composed.

Failed revelations

Furthermore, there are many examples of the failure to confirm of Biblical revelations.  Consider the failed prophecy of the Second Coming:

In Matthew 24: 30 Jesus says, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”  And a few verses later he says, “I will tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24: 34)

Well, we’re still waiting.  It was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago.  It’s time to give up and move on.

All in the head

Those who have claimed to talk to God have provided no knowledge that was not already in their heads.  Many people have claimed religious experiences in which they felt the presence of God, but they never return from those experiences with any exceptional knowledge that could easily verify their claim.  What I’m saying is that there is a way that God can be detected, and this is one of them and has not been.

Furthermore, religious experiences can be induced in the brain by drugs, electromagnetic pulses, and oxygen deprivation.  For example, when pilots undergoing high-G training in a centrifuge, they will often experience a kind of tunneling of their vision, narrowing of their vision with the “light at the end of the tunnel” that is characteristic of the near-death experience that is supposed to happen with the religious significance.

Does God choose to hide?

You might say that God has chosen to hide himself from us.  He certainly has – if he exists has – hidden himself from us.

However, Saint Paul makes it very clear that even though God is invisible, his nature and diet have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  In other words, God may be invisible, but his actions are visible.

[Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

– Romans 1: 20]

In other words, God may be invisible but his actions are visible.  Theists might respond that God’s actions are obvious to those who wish to see them.  Well, I would love to see them, but they are not obvious to me, or to the millions of other non-believers in the world.

Prayers and miracles

Another commonly believed attribute of God is that he listens to entreaties from humans to change the natural course of events.  He can be expected to grant a sufficient number of these requests so that the results should be observable.  Otherwise, what’s the point in praying?

Many people will testify that they’ve had prayers answered.  But personal testimony is insufficient since it doesn’t rule out other more mundane, simpler, natural explanations.  For example, if someone is ill and then recovers after praying, it could be that the prayers had nothing to do with it.  After all, the body, sometimes with medical help, does a pretty good job of healing itself.  In fact, it works every time except once – the last time.

If prayer had value in healing we’d have doctors prescribing Prayer Aspirin. “Say three ‘Our Fathers’ and four ‘Hail Marys’ and call me in the morning.”

Convincing evidence for a God who answers prayers can, in principle, be scientifically demonstrated – it’s not impossible – with high probability if he really exists.  Well-designed experiments on intercessory prayer should turn up solid, statistically significant results on the success of prayer in healing.

In fact, some studies claiming positive effects of prayer have been published in refereed medical journals to great media hoopla.  However, you can’t rely on media reports but need to look at the actual published papers.  Applying the same criteria that are used in conventional science when testing extraordinary claims, you’ll find that none of the reported effects is significant.  Furthermore, most of these experiments are severely flawed and none of the claimed positive effects have ever been successfully replicated.

Mayo Clinic Study (2001)

Perhaps the best study was done by the Mayo Clinic a few years ago.  They studied some 800 patients over a period of half a year.  The patients – they were coronary patients – were divided up into two groups, some prayed for, some not prayed for, and the results were no significant effect that would suggest that prayer had any good whatsoever.

[The results of 26 weeks of intercessory prayer, a widely practiced complementary therapy, were studied in 799 patients randomized to an intercessory prayer group or to a control group after discharge from a coronary care unit. As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on specifically defined medical outcomes, regardless of risk status.]

Summary

So let me summarise:

  1. The traditional attributes of God are self-contradictory, so such a God cannot exist.
  2. The traditional attributes of God are incompatible with objective facts about the world. So such a God cannot exist.
  3. Natural explanations are superior to supernatural explanations.  No basis exists for anything supernatural.
  4. The traditional attributes of God imply actions that should be objectively observed, but they’re not.

It’s possible to hypothesize a God whose attributes are logically compatible with each other, but it does not follow that such a God exists unless he has objectively observable consequences.  And as I said no consequences have been observed.

So if God exists, where is he?

First Rebuttal: 12 minutes

I’m going to respond now mainly to Dr Craig’s opening remarks.  However, I will add some further comments on what he has just said.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

Carl Sagan said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  He probably wasn’t the first one to say that.  Dr Craig has made the extraordinary claim that certain empirical facts require supernatural explanations.

In order to refute that, all I need to do is provide plausible natural explanations for these phenomena.  I need not prove these.  If he wants to argue that God is required to exist in order to explain the observed universe, Dr Craig must disprove all possible, natural explanations for these phenomena.

Let’s start with his cosmological argument.

Cosmological Argument

Dr Craig argues that:

  1. Whatever begins must have a cause
  2. The universe had a beginning
  3. Therefore the universe must have had a cause

Not everything that begins has a Cause

However, we know from physics that not everything that begins has a cause.  Physical bodies begin to exist all the time without cause.  Let’s consider radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus, the alpha particle or beta particle or gamma particle that are emitted in a radioactive decay, those particles coming into being, come into existence, begin to exist spontaneously, without a cause.  The beginning of the Big Bang the universe was like a subatomic particle, so these ideas could apply.  Again, I can’t prove it but I don’t have to prove it.  Here is one example that refutes Dr Craig’s claim that everything that begins must have a cause.

Is the Big Bang is evidence that the universe had a beginning?

But even if everything that begins has a cause, this does not necessary apply to the universe if the universe did not have a beginning.

Dr Craig argues that the Big Bang is evidence that the universe had a beginning.  However, the universe need not have begun with the Big Bang.  And I’m not just talking about this one particular speculation from my book.  There are many prominent physicists and cosmologists who publish papers in reputable scientific journals proposing various scenarios by which the Big Bang appeared naturally out of a pre-existing universe that need not itself have had a beginning.  One such recent example is the Cyclic Universe.

Does an infinite universe have a beginning?

Dr Craig also claims that the universe had to begin because if it were infinitely old, it would take an infinite time to reach the present.

However, if the universe is infinitely old, then it had no beginning – not a beginning infinitely long ago.  Furthermore, the universe can be finite – and I actually believe that the universe is finite – it can be finite and still not have a beginning.

Universe can be finite and still not have a beginning

Einstein defined time as what you read on a clock.  It’s a number, the number of ticks of the clock.  We count time forward time: one, two, three, four, five ticks.  We never reach infinitive time.  We can also count time backward and never reach minus infinity.  The notion that the universe had either a beginning or will have an end are theological notions, not scientific ones.

Is the universe fine-tuned for life?

Now, what about this fine-tuning argument?  Again, it’s an argument that’s based on the low probability of our kind of life.  And that not only means carbon-based life but also life with the existing physical laws as we know them.  Even if the probability of a particular form of life was highly improbable to have occurred by natural process, some kind of life could still be highly probable.  Probably not silicon – I agree that silicon is a poor candidate – but that’s with our existing laws of physics.

Another form of life might still evolve in a universe with different physical laws or different physical constants.  We simply don’t have the knowledge to rule that out.  To say that there’s only possible form of life and only one possible set of laws of physics and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking and not at all required by anything that we know about science.

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 exceedingly 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.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Dr Craig also asks why is there “something” rather than “nothing”, why does the universe exist rather than “nothing”?

Well, why should “nothing” be a more natural state than “something”?  Why would you expect “nothing” rather than “something”?  In fact, how could “nothing” even exist?  If it existed, wouldn’t it be “something”?

And finally, why is there God rather than “nothing”?  Dr Craig doesn’t answer those questions.

Genesis confirmed?

Dr Craig claims the Big Bang confirms the Biblical view of creation.

Genesis falsified

But what does Genesis actually say?  It says that Earth was created before the sun, moon and stars.  This is at odds with modern cosmology which says that the Earth did not form until seven billion years after the Big Bang.

There are many other disagreements.  Genesis implies that the universe is only about 6,000 years old.  Here’s a picture of a quasar.  The light from this quasar left 12 billion years ago.  Billions and billions of years before the Earth was even formed.

Every one of the thousand or so religions in the world has a creation myth.  Most of them probably resemble modern cosmology as well or better than Genesis.  Here we are in Polynesia and some of the Polynesian myths are more closely resembling to the modern cosmology than Genesis.

Objective morality

Dr Craig calls upon our common sense – our inner feelings – to attest that morality is objective and so must come from God.

Subjective morality

Not everyone shares the same morals.  So, there is no evidence for objective morality.  But, even if morality were objective, its source could be natural: an evolutionary process that aids in human survival and is built into our genes.  I don’t see how Dr Craig has disproved that possibility.

Is the Gospel historical?

Dr Craig claims the Gospel stories describe actual historical events, such as the empty tomb.

The Empty Tomb

There is no evidence for this outside the Bible.  The story of the empty tomb is second and third hand, written years after the event from the oral testimony of supposed eyewitnesses.  Paul did not even know about it, yet Paul regarded the resurrection as very important, yet he didn’t know anything about the empty tomb.  Furthermore, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

But even if the story of the empty tomb is accurate, you could have a simple, natural explanation.  Dr Craig seems to think most scholars don’t believe, but I don’t see how they can know that.

If you went to the Napoleon’s tomb in Paris one morning, and found that his remains were not in their usual place of honour, would you conclude Napoleon had risen bodily into heaven?  Hardly.  You would figure that somebody took the body!  Dr Craig cannot prove that Jesus’ body could not have been removed by somebody.  So that remains a more plausible, natural explanation and a supernatural explanation is not required by the data.

Personal experience of God

On personal experience, Dr Craig says that a personal experience should tell us that God exists.  However, that’s subjective and not everyone shares that experience.

No Evidence for God

So plausible natural explanations exist for all phenomena in the universe and God is not required to explain the universe and so Dr Craig has not proved that God exists.

Closing Remarks: 10 minutes

Dr Craig believes in the God of the Gaps.  That’s the God who is used as a substitute explanation for something that we don’t understand, until the time comes along that we do.  Dr Craig cannot see how the universe came about naturally, so it must have come about supernaturally.  He cannot see how the universe became orderly by natural processes, so order must have come about by supernatural processes.  He cannot see how objective morality can come from humanity, so it must have come from God.  He cannot see how Jesus’ tomb could have been empty, so he must have risen from the dead.  And finally Dr Craig cannot see how his inner experience of God could be a simple physical brain process, so it must be a true experience of God.

In each of these cases we can give a plausible, natural explanation that violates no known principles of science and requires no divine action.  Dr Craig does not succeed in proving that these natural explanations are wrong; he tries to argue that they are implausible but in fact everything I’ve talked about is consistent with all the knowledge we have in science and is in perfect agreement with existing experimental and theoretical facts.  So I don’t think Dr Craig succeeds in proving that God exists.

But even if the goal of the debate were not proof, but simply arguing to the best explanation, Dr Craig fails: secular humanism or materialism is a better explanation than theism or supernaturalism.  It’s simpler, more consistent with empirical observations. In fact, Dr Craig offers no explanations at all.  It’s not an explanation for the order the universe to say, “God did it”.  How did God do it?  Where did God come from?  All you do when you say that “God did it” is you push the explanation back one level; it doesn’t explain a thing.

I’ve argued that a God with the attributes assumed by traditional theism can be proved not to exist if those attributes of course exist.  You can play with the attributes.  You can redefine God so that he doesn’t have all these attributes.  For example, an all good God might not be all perfect or all powerful let’s say and then is not responsible for evil, doesn’t have control over evil.  In fact, that was a line that was taken by Rabbi Kushner in his best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People that God can’t help it – that bad things just happen.  However, if you assume that God has the power to prevent evil then the fact that he doesn’t and evil still exists is clearly an inconsistency – a logically impossibility.

A God who reveals knowledge about the universe that was not previously known could have been objectively verified.  A God with such properties clearly does not exist.  The God who answers prayers and performs miracles that can be objectively verified does not exist.  I readily admit that I can’t disprove every conceivable God.  But there’s no basis for believing in a God who does not produce objectively verifiable attributes.

I’m sure that I’ve not convinced many of the believers in the audience; I certainly haven’t convinced Dr Craig.  You’ll testify as Dr Craig does that you can feel the presence of God in your hearts.  Now I’m sure you do.  I understand that conviction.  I was raised in a devout Catholic family and heard this conviction expressed by almost everybody around me.  But as I grew up, I found that I could not share this faith.  Despite the importance of religion to my family and friends, I could not believe in God because I saw no evidence that he existed.  No one told me about humanism or atheism – I read no humanist or atheist books – I just found that the arguments and evidence that everybody continued to cite to me were unconvincing.  Not knowing how all this came about doesn’t mean that it came from God, it just means that we don’t know how all this came about.  And sincere personal testimonies of deeply held faith were not the sort of objective evidence that we have come to rely on in modern life.  Indeed, I saw so many conflicting religious points of view all based on primitive, superstitious ideas that I knew that they couldn’t all be right.  I decided most likely they were all wrong.

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.

People like what they see when they look in the mirror illuminated by the light of faith.  It reflects an image of themselves as fallen angels who sit on this planet with divine purpose to rehabilitate themselves so they may rejoin their fellow angels in paradise.  Unfortunately, the universe exposed to the light of science does not reveal a special place for humanity in the cosmos or any prospect for life after death.  I would not honest if I tried to sugar coat those facts just because they conflict so dramatically with common yearnings.

Saint Paul said, “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child.  But when I became a man, I put away childish things, for now we see through a glass darkly.”  Humanity has moved beyond childhood.  We no longer need to depend on imaginary friends for company or a mythical sky father to provide for our needs.  We can take care of ourselves.  We can find ways to live our lives that are consistent with the universe revealed to us by science.

Finally, an all good, all powerful, all knowing God – if one existed – he would have the power to comfort a child dying an excruciating death from leukaemia.  He chooses not to do so.  Is there a person in this room who would not ease that child’s suffering given the power?  I would do it.  Jesus Christ could appear before me and tell me not to do it because it has some ultimate purpose, I WOULD STILL DO IT!  Even if I faced eternal damnation I would do it…

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.

Unbelievable? reports on the Intelligence Squared debate on Atheist Fundamentalism

13/12/2009

MSP is featured!

Justin Brierley, presenter of Premier Christian Radio’s sceptical debate show, Unbelievable?, has done a report on the above debate which I attended at Wellington College on 29 November 2009.  You can download the podcast here.

My question to the Christian members of the panel is at 23 minutes.  You can read my report on the lecture given by Ken Ham, head of Answers In Genesis, at Liverpool University in March 2008 over at Butterflies & Wheels here.

Good show Justin, but I could not disagree with you more about Charles Moore being the evening’s “revelation”.  And perhaps you would care to read my piece on why Dawkins most certainly should not debate William Lane Craig.

I’m also in the middle of writing and researching my own paper on whether atheism was responsible for Hitler’s Germany, which I wish I could forward to the audience member who thought that Hitler was an atheist in order to educate her!

Dawkins refuses to debate William Lane Craig

13/12/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

The Hitler Meme

26/08/2009

Hitler

The reputation of history’s most hated dictator will never survive this.

UPDATE: 11 MARCH 2010

I have been writing this blog for just over a year now.  I love blogging.  It is a very involving hobby that has expanded my mind and made me engage with a wealth of new issues relating to science, history, politics and philosophy.  I love the buzz you get when the notification email arrives when someone has posted a reply to a thread, links to one of your posts on their blog, sends a message of praise or constructive criticism.  I love the feeling of, “Perhaps this argument will make me change my mind?”

Of which posts am I most proud?  Well, my report of the Hitchens/ Fry debate on the Catholic Church in October had a lot of views and comments.  My rubbishing of William Dembski’s Intelligent Design “theory” ranks very high as well.  Just to think, I nearly gave up on it halfway through I was so bored, and then an “unsolicited” email to Dembski’s college account and it ended up on his Uncommon Descent blog not once, but twice!  Victor Stenger liked my analysis of his 2003 debate against William Lane Craig so much that he posted it on his own website and from where I get c. 20 referrals per day.  And of course there’s my castigation of Craig’s appalling interpretation of Yahweh’s commandment to his chosen people to wipe out every single one of the Canaanites of which I am rather pleased.

Are any of these my highest viewed post?  No.  My highest viewed post is THIS: the result of a rainy Saturday afternoon dossing on YouTube coming across an Internet craze butchering the best scene in a brilliant study of history’s most infamous tyrant.

Posted on 26 August 2009.  11,700 views and counting.  It’s getting ridiculous!!

The Hitchens/ Fry debate report was my PB with c. 600 views in one day.  Now it is “The Hitler Meme” which has been getting 700+ per day of late.  I really can’t explain why it is getting so many views.  No one has left a comment.  The post hasn’t been linked on any other blog or website.  My WordPress stats monitor says that viewers are finding it through the search engine term “hitler”.  Except I have searched for it on Google and it doesn’t come up in the first 10 pages of hits!?!?!?!?!?!

Anyone viewing this post now, how are you finding this page?  What’s so great about it?  Please leave some comments and put me out of my misery!

I don’t know whether to delete the post yet, but I may well do so.  This is just getting silly!  Answers in the comments box, please.

ORIGINAL POST CONTINUES

I recently became aware of a massive YouTube trend sending up Hitler.  The clips are culled from Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2004 film, Downfall, which depicts the Führer’s last days in his Berlin bunker with the Allied forces closing in on all sides in the spring of 1945.

Except instead of throwing a wobbler at his aides and military commanders for the collapse of the German army in the face of the enemy, Adolf – played by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz – is getting all hot under the collar at slightly less profound matters, such as the live act for his birthday party…

Tasteless, spoiling a great film and above all funny.  Very, very funny.  Hundreds have been produced.  Here is a selection of my favourites from a rainy afternoon’s viewing:

Hitler gets banned from Xbox online…

…finds out that Michael Jackson has died…

…hears about Sarah Palin’s resignation…

…complains about being stuck in slow motion…

…assumes the role of Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, over the NDP-Liberal Coalition…

…and finally, rants at the amount of spoofs about him from the film Downfall