Comments on the Craig-Rosenberg debate, part 1

So far I’ve only listened to the opening statements from William Lane Craig’s recent debate with Alex Rosenberg (audio here). In this post, I’m only going to comment on the Craig’s opening statement, along with the “Gish Gallop” issue.

Craig gave eight arguments (or seven, if you don’t count religious experience which Craig always includes in his count before saying it isn’t an argument). All the standard ones were there in more or less their usual form. Kalam was stripped down a little. In the moral argument Craig claimed that Rosenberg agrees with him that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. And with the Resurrection, Craig dialed up his claims a notch by claiming not just that most Biblical scholars agree with him, but most historians in general!

The three new arguments were another version of the cosmological argument, an argument from mathematics, and an argument from intentionality. The first two were blatantly terrible. With the cosmological argument, Craig actually used “there’s only one way I can think of…” as an argument for why the explanation of the universe must be God. Dawkins himself could not invent a better illustration of the appeal to personal incredulity.

Similarly, Craig argued:

>The naturalist has no explanation for the uncanny applicability of mathematics to the physical world. By contrast, the theist has a ready explanation. When God created the physical universe, he designed it on the mathematical structure he had in mind.

Seriously, so what? Theists who are so inclined will always have “God did it” as an explanation for anything we don’t know how to explain, but this is no more an argument for the existence of God than the following is an argument for the existence of gnomes: I have no idea where where my underwear went, but a gnome-believer has a “ready explanation” namely that the underpants gnomes stole it.

With the argument from intentionality, Craig claimed Rosenberg agreed with him that if atheism is true, there are no intentional states, similar to what he claimed when making the moral argument. Knowing Craig, I was immediately skeptical of both of these claims, though I can’t comment on them directly since I haven’t read Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

From what I’ve heard second-hand about Rosenberg’s views, though, my suspicion is that at most Rosenberg thinks that “scientism” (defined in his idiosyncratic, non-perjorative way) leads us to reject objective morality and intentional states. But that’s irrelevant, because the debate was about atheism, not “scientism.” And it wouldn’t surprise me if Craig’s claims about Rosenberg had even less basis in reality than that.

Now here’s what’s so objectionable about Craig’s debating tactics. Inflating your number of arguments with blatantly terrible arguments as Craig’s second version of the cosmological argument, and the argument from mathematics, served no purpose except to either:

  1. Force the opponent to waste time on nonsense
  2. Let you announce, “my opponent ignored my terrible argument, so I win!”

Such debating tactics are, frankly, stupid and a “win” based on them is nothing to be proud of.