Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Hawking’

Video of William Lane Craig’s misrepresentation of Sam Harris during and after their debate on morality

03/02/2014

Further to my posts reviewing the debate on morality between atheist Sam Harris and Christian apologist William Lane Craig, together with Craig’s distortions of Harris’ written work, nooneleftalivekibo has cited my first post in the above video, for which I am grateful and flattered.

Having watched a few nooneleftalivekibo’s other videos, I recommend those that expose Craig’s misrepresentation and quote-mining of Stephen Law, Michael Ruse and Stephen Hawking.

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David Robertson’s Fleabytes: On Science and Faith

13/11/2010

manicstreetpreacher is back.  Yeah, baby!

Hello again the blogosphere!  It has been a good few months since my last post ruminating on my blogging burnout, but the manicstreetpreacher has psychologically recovered more or less and the iconoclastic fire is beginning to burn again in his soul.

I have been tempted to blog on a number of topics in my time away, but after 119 posts and innumerable hours on other blogs and debate forums, I was beginning run out of topics to write about and nothing was exciting me anymore.  However, one area that has escaped my net thus far is the question of religious education of children.  With this post, I kill two birds with one stone by blogging on a previously untouched topic and taking a pop at an old adversary.

Pastor David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church of Scotland, Dundee is an ardent opponent of the New Atheism and author of The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, a Christian response to Richard Dawkins’ 2006 anti-religious polemic, The God Delusion.

After hearing his first two appearances on Premier Christian Radio’s sceptics’ debate show, Unbelievable? I penned a vitriolic open letter and had an exchange of emails that turned from rather angry to really quite civilised before finally debating him in September 2009 on the show on religious debate online and whether Europe should be atheist or Christian along with Christian convert, Richard Morgan.

During my sabbatical I have been following Robertson’s own blog and in particular his “Fleabytes” series of YouTube videos in reply to Dawkins’ Channel 4 series, Root of All Evil? (Google Video links: Part I / Part II).

I registered for a user account with the St Peter’s Church website under my usual Internet moniker so that I could post replies to these videos, but my application was not approved.  I was not provided with an explanation, despite emailing the site’s administrator, copying in Robertson himself to that email.

Since I have not been allowed to post on Robertson’s website directly, below is a copy of the reply I had intended to post:

Dear David

I have been watching these instalments with fascination.  If you really believe that Christian faith is based on evidence and – as you state quite categorically in your book – the moment that evidence is disproved you will cease to believe, then I take it you must teach the young members of your congregation to think about the things that ought to make them stop believing in Christianity.

Some religious people claim that trust in science and particular Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is as much a faith claim as belief in a personal creator God.  I must point out to you that science is self-validating and scientists are constantly striving to prove each other wrong, and even themselves wrong.  Stephen Hawking jokes that he became famous for proving that the universe and space time began with a singularity known as the “Big Bang” and then he became famous again for proving that the universe and space time didn’t begin with the Big Bang.

While I appreciate that you “don’t know and don’t care” about the scientific truth of evolution (while still ridiculing Richard Dawkins’ main argument in The God Delusion as amounting to nothing more than “evolution is true, therefore God does not exist” and asserting that Darwin’s idea of “favoured races” inspired Hitler’s eugenics and Stalin’s atrocities with the other side of your face), Darwin in fact dedicated an entire chapter in The Origins of Species discussing the potential problems with his theory and stated in no uncertain terms what would be required to disprove it:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.

As you can see, Darwin is explicating laying down the gauntlet to his opponents and saying “Come and have a go if you think you’re smart enough”, and even providing them with the weapons to defeat him.  Over 150 years later, no one has managed to do so.

Continuing is this vein of self-scrutiny and the constant quest for falsification, I expect you provide the children in your congregation with the tools to examine critically their Christian faith.  For example, they ought to consider whether:

  1. an all-good, all-loving God would be so intent on remaining hidden from his treasured creations.  After all, it has been said that the invisible and the non-existent look very similar.
  2. there is any more evidence to support the Gospels’ account of Christ’s resurrection than Almighty Zeus sending his only begotten son Perseus to Earth to wield his big, strong weapon to slay Medusa and rid humanity of the Kraken.  If you can’t believe what you saw this morning on a bastion of daily journalism such as Sky News, how can you accept something that was written two-three thousand years ago by people who were primitive by our standards, decades after the events they purport to describe and copied and recopied by scribes who were careless or grinding their own theological axes?
  3. all New Testament scholars see the basic Gospel narratives as an accurate depiction of history.  For example, Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version describes Luke’s nativity as “historically impossible and internally incoherent”, particularly in relation to the apparent fabrication of a Roman census that had the onerous requirement for the population to return to their town of origin.
  4. the miracles of Jesus reported in a two thousand year old text are any more believable than those allegedly performed by today’s charlatan gurus and mystics that are testified as authentic by thousands upon thousands of devoted followers – including many Western educated people – and available to view on the modern miracle of YouTube.
  5. there is any evidence outside the text to confirm the events of the Old Testament, in particular the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt.  Biblical “maximalists” such as James Hoffmeier and Kenneth Kitchen are satisfied that the  stories of Moses and Joshua are historically accurate, however, “minimalists” such Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have declared that there is no corroborating evidence whatsoever for these stories and have consigned them to the same mythical status as Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  How come we do not see such disagreements in relation to other historical characters such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan?
  6. double-blind controlled experiments on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer show that Christian prayers have an objectively higher success rate than those of other religions.
  7. one child being plucked from the sea following a plane crash that killed 153 really constitutes a divine miracle as the girl’s family claimed.
  8. if there is a divine link between morality and metrology, as the then Bishop of Carlisle pronounced in July 2007 blaming the recent floods in Northern Yorkshire on gay marriage, then why don’t we see a few more tidal waves crashing down the centre of Manchester’s Canal Street during Pride?
  9. regardless of whether the resurrection is an historical fact, the Pope is morally right to go to sub-Saharan Africa, where 2 – 3 million people die of HIV/AIDS in any one year and actually say words to the effect, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.
  10. they ought to view programmes like Root of All Evil? and read books like The God Delusion for themselves without any prior input from your good self, their religious parents or school teachers.

Please understand that I am not claiming that I hold the correct view on any of these issues; I am merely advocating them as food for thought for you and your flock.  I therefore look forward to the fly-on-wall episode showing one of your Sunday school classes discussing these very points.

With best wishes for Christmas and 2011 to you, your family and your congregation

manicstreetpreacher

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.

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.