Stephen Law Debates William Lane Craig

Stephen Law, who puts special emphasis on “evil god” arguments, debated William Lane Craig in Westminster Central Hall in London on October 17. I haven’t had a chance to watch this yet but figured since it features Craig debating an actual philosopher, I would pass it on for you. If there are interesting moments we should pay special attention to, please mention them in the comments with the timestamp.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • maureen.brian

    First thoughts? That’s the lovely hall in which the Labour Party manifesto of 1945 was agreed, allowing us to rebuild a battered and half-destroyed country as a fairer and more open society.

    It’s also where the first ever meeting of the United Nations was held. Results mixed but the intention was noble.

    I don’t think I can bear to watch WLC defile it.

  • dragon

    Only watched about 8 minutes so far, and we already have conclusive proof from WLC.

    Conclusive proof that you don’t need to understand math or infinity to get a degree in Philosophy of Religion.

    I have never heard anyone who claims to be educated misunderstand infinity so badly.

  • dalekitchens

    WLC opens debate by saying that he won’t discuss what atheists believe until Law actually makes a claim. Then he proceeds to claim atheists believe the universe has an infinite past. Only two minutes in and already he’s contradicting himself. I hope I can make it through the whole thing.

    • piegasm

      I’m of the opinion that WLC does these things deliberately. It’s kind of a classic con man tactic. You warn your audience about something that other, less scrupulous people than you do and then do that very thing yourself. Your warning puts your audience off the scent so that, when you do what you just warned against, they’re less inclined to notice.

      Thunderfoot has a video up of Craig in a debate with someone in which he scolds the other person for name-dropping philosophers who he claims have refuted Craig’s claims. He whines that his opponent should elaborate about what exactly they said or keep his mouth shut. In the very next sentence he name-drops something like six philosophers who, he claims, totes agree with him guise.

      He did it to Sam Harris too. He accused Sam of “playing definition games” (I think that’s how he worded it) in the same breath as he surreptitiously does exactly that.

  • maxdwolf

    WLC’s seems to be opening with “Transfinite math blows my mind so an infinite universe or infinite regression is impossible.” Then onto a compressed Kalam and the moral “argument”. He also misuses a cosmological theory in the process, as usual. Oh, and of course he prefaced this all with the usual b.s. claim that ALL of his arguments must be shot down AND and argument for atheism must be made for Stephen to ‘win’.

    Stephen focuses on the moral argument and his sole tactic is that an evil God can be explained in the same manner and is ridiculous so the whole argument is ridiculous (paraphrasing mine). He does seem to logically eliminate his target, WLC’s good God. But I find him a little disappointing. Probably comes from being a material naturalist who does not believe in an objective morality (or the relevance of one should it exist).

    WLC addresses the suffering of animals and the weakness and even horror of this argument was addressed by PZ several months ago.

    Also disappointed that Stephen doesn’t seem prepared to properly rip into the resurrection. He just expresses some reasonable skepticism. WLC closes with the Q&A with his assertion of the “unexpectedness” of the Messiah. Not a scholar, but I suspect that’s bullshit.

    • xtog

      Stephen has a focus on the bad vs good God issue for probably 2 reasons — 1) He has a book coming out about it, 2) Audiences tend to get overwhelmed by a blizzard of arguments and repetition can tend to drive a point home and leave a longer lasting persuasive impression.

      Stephen could/should have spent a few moments on another idea that parallels the good vs bad god dilemma for god-supporters — How do god-supporters known that there is only one god as opposed to several gods? This issue is precisely like his good-bad god argument in that it challenges the god-supporter to expose the cognitive processes they use to discover truth or what to believe in.

      In the good-bad god argument Stephen essentially says: Given that there is a god, “How do you know it is not an evil god?” He might have also asked, Given that there is a God, “How do you know that there is only one god?”

      Also, Stephen tried but should have struck more on the idea that there is or is not objective morality. Stephen at one point says he believes there is and so that may be why he didn’t focus on that issue much, but to me there is no good argument for the existence of objective morality.

      Also, Craig’s last point about whether the messiah was expected was absolutely ridiculous — if a messiah was not expected, why were so many people on the lookout for one?

  • kraut

    Let me state first that I am really not interested in a philosophical debate about “god” when this god is evidently incapable of giving a good account of himself -and I would not consider a multiply edited piece of scrap like the bible evidence.

    Secondly, if this god cannot give an account of himself – why should anybody be interested in his existence or not?
    His absence should tell us that: either he exists and does not want to communicate unambiguously and openly with his creation,
    or he does not exist and therefore there is nothing to communicate or he died some time ago before he could clarify some really sticky point in the so called holy book that is claimed he authored.
    In any case there simply is no point believing in a entity deemed a necessary quality of his being the that so obviously is absent.

    Now it is claimed that this absentism is a necessary quality of this supreme being. If this is a case – who really gives a shit? and why? Just because some vague promises (inconsistent with the first iteration of the good book, which is claimed to be perfectly consistent)?

    Anyhow – I watched the first two minutes or so and Craig lost me when he posted his first question: Have you ever wondered…. he lost me because this is exactly the question one could ask about religion: have you ever wondered how a being that existed in a space and timeless continuum was ever able to create time and space, and that this can only mean his existence actually can be counted only from this moment on? He created himself by creating time and space?
    I rather take what science tries to find out as evidence as to how the universe began, even if supplies answers loaded with more questions.
    At least there is some evidence (MBR, deep space
    photography, quantum mechanics etc.)in the observable realm as to how the universe began – and maybe even why.
    I rather take the search any day then the pat answers that do not answer anything at all that religion supplies.

    To repeat – I really lost interest in the god question a long time ago, when I was sixteen and I had the “epiphany” that god just does not make sense.
    I just try to sometimes listen or read if there is a new argument that might convince me that actual evidence for a creator (apart from the self created universe) has been found. I am not sorry to say – the “for” arguments are as crappy as ever.

  • EdW

    So, there are three arguments at play from Craig.

    Kalam, Moral Law, and History of Jesus.

    I’m always bewildered by Kalam. The first premise doesn’t hold water — “whatever begins to exist must have a cause”. Do we have any examples of something “beginning to exist”? Doesn’t the First Law of Thermodynamics pretty much rule that out? I’m equally bewildered by the other favorite, “out of nothing, nothing comes”. Do we have any examples of Nothingness to use as a test case? They sound reasonable on the surface, but they’re meaningless.

    The objective morality argument is even more vexing to me — Law did not do our side justice in my view in this debate. Yes, objective moral values exist, but they are based upon our common experience and the existence of objective reality. The ONLY way to judge morality is consequences combined with intent. The classic rat-poison-and coffee thought experiment is a great look at this combination — but note, for the vast majority of people thinking about that situation, they do not require an appeal to God to form beliefs about the morality of various actions — only consequences and intent. Even then, in these arguments I never hear anyone bring up moral ambiguity — even if there ARE Objectively Good and Evil actions, surely not every action fits neatly into these categories. Doesn’t Objectively Ambiguous things (say, contraception) kind of demolish the idea of moral dictatorship?

    Finally, Craig trotted out the empty tomb as if there had been a film crew documenting the whole thing. Even if it were shown to be true, it seems a million different explanations would be more reasonable than a dying and rising God. I mean, even in the Gospels, we see evidence of a competing theory. I believe it’s Matthew who says that the guards were bribed to say that the disciples stole the body. It’s easy to imagine that some group of disciples (maybe not the Big Twelve) wanted the body moved from the rich man’s tomb, and took it without the knowledge of the gospel-writer’s sources.

    Overall, I’m really glad that Law stuck to his guns and moved the argument away from Kalam, although he could have done a much better job of giving his reasons for doing so. A very quick refutation would have sufficed, and a appeal to the audience to look for the Kalam arguments elsewhere.

    • piegasm

      Craig’s use of the resurrection in his debates has always struck me as conspicuously incongruous with the rest of it. He starts with (butchering) bleeding edge cosmology and ends with talking about something that allegedly happened 2000+ years ago as if there were people still living who’d spoken to eye witnesses. My best guess is that it’s an appeal to members of his audience over whom the more arcane parts of his arguments did a complete fly-by.

  • kraut

    “Do we have any examples of something “beginning to exist” ”

    A star begins to exist, a planet begins to exist, a cell begins to exist, a human being begins to exists. Composed of preexisting parts but beginning to exist as a something not having existed previously.
    There was a time – the MBR shows how long ago – when the universe of galaxies did not exist.
    I don’t quite understand your question.

    • Emptyell

      Stars (or anything) don’t so much begin to exist as they arise over time as part of a continuous process. Beginnings are arbitrary points that we define due to their significance to us or as a matter of convenience. Similarly causation is a descriptive model we use to aid our understanding of and influence on the world around us but there is no guarantee that it is complete and accurate in all cases.

      So to say that all beginnings must have a cause is only a claim about our perception of reality and not a valid claim about reality in general. Of course this distinction is lost on those who make stuff up and then believe it to be real.

    • Patrick

      Craig’s use of “begins to exist” is categorically different from the sorts of “begins to exist” we actually see and experience.

      The chair I’m sitting on “began to exist” when someone hammered it together in a factory. But before the components of my chair were in this shape, they were in different shapes, and in still different shapes before that. The configuration I call a “chair” is new, but the pieces aren’t new. Now we have loads of experience with things being one way and then being another way, and calling the new way a new thing and saying that it began to exist.

      But that’s not what Craig means by “begins to exist.” He doesn’t think that there was a bunch of stuff that was one way and then it changed and became what we call a universe, and the universe therefore “began to exist.”

      He thinks there were no things at all, and then SHAZAM! Things! Things everywhere!

      We don’t have any experience of this. At all.

      So lets say we have experience that tells us that the first kind of “begins to exist” always has a cause.

      What does that do for the second kind? Not a thing, as far as I can tell. We can’t even say for sure if the second kind of “begins to exist” is actually possible, much less that it has certain characteristics.

      And that’s just one of the many reasons that Kalam is a bad argument. It borrows on the seeming obviousness of “a table began to exist, someone had to cause that to happen” and applies that intuition unjustifiably to an entirely different context.

  • magicthighs

    This is easily one of the best debates against Craig in my opinion (Kagan being another favourite). Not playing Craig’s game really pays off.

  • baal

    hrm, Just starting and WLC is inflicting pain on me (or me on myself for listening). His intro was smarmy and his math is fail. Debate moderators need courtroom like objections, “Objection! Math Fail!” please use a different basis or move on.

    I’m also not sure I’m capable of fairly considering WLC’s greater point about God’s existence. The form of his argument is offensive – he asserts complicated conclusions from a number of contexts. It’s not possible to really understand what he is saying since the amount of background you need to know is prohibitive. Worse, when I do have a clue (math and biology / social relations of primates) he’s doing bizarre misapplication of those theories. Being intentionally obtuse is not a compelling argument form (once you see that is what he is doing).

    Of course, he’s trying to prove a figment so I’m not sure he could make good arguments. At least he could make honest ones.