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.

  • Steven Carr

    Did Craig really use the argument from intentionality against materialism?

    Is this the same Craig who claimed that animals aren’t aware that they are in pain, because they lack a frontal cortex?

    Astonishing!

  • Steven Carr

    CRAIG
    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.

    CARR
    I always wondered how statisticians were able to apply life functions to human beings and so work out associated death rates, mean life expectancy etc.

    Or how statisticians were able to predict just how many people would be infected by a flu epidemic and what number would be killed before the epidemic subsided.

    Turns out that Craig’s hypothetical god had designed global flu pandemics to have a mathematical structure.

    You don’t just catch flu or smallpox or polio randomly, you know. Craig’s hypothetical god designed the mathematical structures dictating how many people would be struck down – and Craig’s hypothetical god did that before he ever created one of his many, ever changing flu viruses.

    After all, people get immunity to some flu viruses. So Craig’s god just produces a new one….

  • Hans-Richard Grümm

    The “uncanny applicability of mathematics to the physical world” is easy to understand. We used to develop those disciplines of mathematics which contain (mostly approximate) models of the physical world. Arithmetics for counting bushels of grain, geometry for measuring fields, later on differential equations for trajectories of asteroids and for electromagnetic fields etc. Nowadays there are large areas of mathematics – like p-adic numbers – which aren’t applicable to the physical world at all.
    I regard the uncanny applicability of mathematics as similar to the uncanny fitness of Earth to life as we know it. :)

  • Andrew L

    I’m only through the opening arguments too – - and I think you missed a significant 1/2 truth by WLC.
    As his closing, as he often does, made the claim that his opponent must refute ALL of his arguments to prove God is likely not to exist. Nothing could be further from the truth. If for instance the Kalam failed, the balance of argument would move decisively against the God hypothesis. Similarly, a failure of the objective moral values would be a very strong blow against the existence of God. It would be too incredible to believe that if God didn’t create the world or God isn’t the source of morality, that somehow it is still God. Same holds for most of the other arguments too. This of course is why evolution, an only partial rebuttal to God as creator, has been so destructive to religion and Christianity.
    (By the way I only noticed this debate because several Christian apologetic sites went into dirty trick mode, a clear sign that WLC is in part bested. In this case, these sites are trying to conflate a minor about how mind works from molehill into mountain.)

    • Steven Carr

      ‘As his closing, as he often does, made the claim that his opponent must refute ALL of his arguments to prove God is likely not to exist. ‘

      Absolutely correct. Only one of Craig’s arguments has to fail for them all to fail, assuming they are all actually supposed to be good arguments.

      It is like saying somebody should be convicted of murder for shooting 6 people, as you have to disprove all of the following – he was there, he had a gun, he wanted to kill those people, people saw him there etc.

      On the contrary, if any one of those fail, for example, if it shown that the person had never handled a gun in his life, then ALL of them fail.

  • flatteringfine

    Craig won the debate, enough said. Alex Rosenburg is an exemplary philosopher who simply wasn’t in his field during the course of the debate. Is he the last philosopher to realize that the logical problem of evil has been scrapped in favor of the probabilistic argument from evil? Has he really not thought through his moral intuitions? I’m not saying that WLC is unbeatable as a debater it just seems to me that perhaps some people need to get out of their echo chambers and dedicate themselves to refuting his arguments. If it isn’t that hard then someone should at least be able to respond in a manner that does the debate justice.

  • David E

    “Is he the last philosopher to realize that the logical problem of evil has been scrapped in favor of the probabilistic argument from evil?”

    What, specifically, do you think is wrong with the logical problem of evil? I’ve heard it claimed that Plantinga defeated it a great many times but I’ve not heard a good explanation for how.

  • David E

    Plantinga’s claim, as best I recall, is that a statement like “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so” is possibly true and, if so, then the logical problem of evil fails. But it seems to me he’s simply flipping between two different uses of the word “possible”.

    For example, someone might ask me “Is it possible that the thousandth digit of pi is 4?” and I would probably say yes meaning that I don’t know which it is but 4 is one of the options for a digit of pi and, if I was guessing, just as plausible an option as any other digit one might choose.

    But, strictly speaking, the correct answer would “it is either the case that the thousandth digit is 4 (in which case it is logically necessary) or it isn’t (in which case it’s logically impossible) but since I haven’t worked pi out to the thousandth digit I don’t know which of these options is true. I think something analogous is the case with respect to Plantinga’s “solution” to the logical problem of evil. It either is the case that there is some reason for allowing evil that would be “good” in the sense of consistent with God’s benevolence or there simply is no such reason in the set of all reasons that might be given.

    We can’t prove one way or the other (naturally, since the set of all reasons one might give is infinite and we don’t and can’t know all of them). This puts us in much the same position as the individual who doesn’t know the thousandth digit of pi. Plantinga is simply using a bit of sleight of hand switching between different sense of the word “possible”.

    Or do I misunderstand his argument? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Steven Carr

      You don’t misunderstand his argument.

      Plantinga claims his god has created creatures with free will that have never sinned – the angels in Heaven. I asked him in an email if he claimed this, and he agreed.

      Then Plantinga claims it is possible his god can only create creatures with free will that are depraved and commit an evil in any actualisible world.

      This is like claiming it is possible that all swans are white, even after being shown a black swan.

      What sort of ‘possible’ is being used, if you claim it is possible that all free creatures are depraved and that the angels in Heaven have never sinned?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Plantinga’s claim, as best I recall, is that a statement like “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so” is possibly true and, if so, then the logical problem of evil fails. ‘

    Ahem!

    Plantinga claims his god necessarily exists and exists in all possible worlds that contain evil.

    Plantinga then claims he can construct ONE world (not the world which exists, as fas as he knows) where his god and evil can co-exist.

    Sorry, Al,but you have to show that your god can exist in ALL possible worlds that contain evil, not just one.

    After all, that is the god you made up. You set the bar so high, claiming your god exists in ALL possible worlds, not just one or two.

  • MNb

    There is another point with the Problem of Evil that theists usually ignore: the god christians believe in actually has created a world in which no evil exists, according to their beliefs. That world is called heaven. God being omni-everything and new-born babies, ie just created souls being without sin, why not skip the whole vale of tears called earthly life? Of course I as an atheist wouldn’t deserve it and thus that god should not have created my soul in the first place. What’s more, I’m perfectly willing to give up my existence right now and here if that enables decent and obedient christians like Craig and Plantinga to go to heaven directly, thus saving them all their years of suffering lying ahead of them. As an atheist I’m not afraid of not-existing, just like before my parents conceived me.
    There may be a world in which Plantinga’s god and evil co-exist, according to christianity it is an inferior one, while the perfect one already exists. So Plantinga’s possible worlds still don’t make any sense for a perfectly benevolent god.

  • augustine

    “There is another point with the Problem of Evil that theists usually ignore: the god christians believe in actually has created a world in which no evil exists, according to their beliefs.”

    Two problems with this: 1) it assumes that the eternal state is not inextricably connected to the non-eternal state, such that together they form one “possible world”; 2) it disregards the possibility that there is not free will in heaven, in which case there would be no evil for that reason.

    • Patrick

      Regarding number 2: if free will is a “good,” as a theist much believe if we’re arguing with him or her about free will theodicies, the only way that heaven can be an optimally good place but lack free will is if heaven represents a maxima of many incompatible good-making qualities, and not the individual maximization of all good making qualities at one time.

      But if good-making qualities can be incompatible, then Catholicism is a dead letter, and Augustine was an idiot.

  • David E

    “it disregards the possibility that there is not free will in heaven, in which case there would be no evil for that reason.”

    Which is inconsistent with the idea that free will is so precious God will allow horrendous evils like child rape to occur in order to preserve it. Not to mention, if we’re talking about the Judeo-Christian God, the fact that angels rebelled in heaven.

    And, of course, there’s also the question of animal suffering…..

  • augustine

    “the only way that heaven can be an optimally good place ”

    It depends on what you mean by “optimally good;” only God is “optimally good” in the ultimate sense. Heaven could have every “good” except free will and still constitute a reward for a free will choice in the non-eternal state. And of course, this still doesn’t address the possibility that the eternal and non-eternal states are inextricably intertwined into a single “possible world” with multiple “levels” (so to speak).

    “Which is inconsistent with the idea that free will is so precious God will allow horrendous evils like child rape to occur in order to preserve it.”

    Not if free will was necessary to fully actualize the goodness of a freely-chosen eternal end-state, at which point free will would no longer be needed, since the choice was made in the non-eternal state (all of which could be a “package deal”).

    “Not to mention, if we’re talking about the Judeo-Christian God, the fact that angels rebelled in heaven.”

    The “new heavens and new earth” spoken of in Revelation occur at the end of time; the angels cannot have rebelled within that eternal end-state since it has not yet occurred.

    • eric

      this still doesn’t address the possibility that the eternal and non-eternal states are inextricably intertwined into a single “possible world” with multiple “levels” (so to speak).

      I don’t see how that helps, unless you are asserting that some amount of evil in the total heaven+earth system is good and/or necessary. Which is circular – it makes a premise out of your preferred conclusion – because the question we are posing is: why is there evil?

      The “intertwined” argument also ignores the problem of the fall. Genesis paints a picture of the non-eternal state God intended to be without evil. To say that the whole system requires that earth contain evil is to imply that God secretly planned or intended the fall, which is both deceptive and, in most people’s minds, evil.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    Is free will even a coherent idea? How does human choice work if it isn’t subject to the cause and effect processes that apply to everything else? Is uncaused behavior even possible?

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  • augustine

    “I don’t see how that helps, unless you are asserting that some amount of evil in the total heaven+earth system is good and/or necessary.”

    No, the assertion here is being made by the atheist (and thus the burden of proof lies with the atheist) to show that evil and God are logically incompatible by demonstrating there is a possible world with just as much good as this one but no evil. Pointing to heaven doesn’t solve the problem if it is inextricably intertwined with the non-eternal state.

    “The “intertwined” argument also ignores the problem of the fall. Genesis paints a picture of the non-eternal state God intended to be without evil. To say that the whole system requires that earth contain evil is to imply that God secretly planned or intended the fall, which is both deceptive and, in most people’s minds, evil.”

    No, see Plantinga’s concept of “transworld depravity” under the modal logic of “possible worlds” (http://www.answers.com/topic/transworld-depravity). God saw every possible (or more technically, “feasible”) world (in his “middle knowledge”) and man fell (by free will) in every one. The fall, incarnation and redemption was thus inevitable in all possible worlds.

    • Steven Carr

      AH, transworld depravity – the doctrine that every being created by Plantinga’s hypothetical god will commit a sin.

      So why does Plantinga claim his god has created beings with free will that have never sinned?

      Of course, Transworld Depravity is a pile of crock.

      God could easily have created my evil twin brother, who behaves exactly like me, except he commits evil where I commit good, and he commits good where I commit evil.

      In which case, in this world, my twin brother would be a good person.

      Is Plantinga saying that his god cannot create twins that have almost identical behaviour except that one chooses good when the other chooses evil?

      Well, yes he is, but he is hoping that the marks don’t spot that.

    • eric

      No, the assertion here is being made by the atheist (and thus the burden of proof lies with the atheist) to show that evil and God are logically incompatible

      Ah, you’re one of those. I don’t use the bar of having to prove logical inocompatibility before I dismiss yeti, so why would I use it here? Seems to me the bar of “no proof of existence and empirical data inconsistent with stories told about it” is a rational justification for disbelief in both cases.
      Let me ask, do you use the same logic on Odin? Is it up to you to demonstrate his logical incompatibility with the world before you dismiss him?
      To my mind, “is not logically incompatible with what we know” is sort of the final gasp in the god of the gaps argument. You can’t get a much teensier gap than “is not logically incompatible with…”

      God saw every possible (or more technically, “feasible”) world (in his “middle knowledge”) and man fell (by free will) in every one. The fall, incarnation and redemption was thus inevitable in all possible worlds.

      Redemption is inevitable? So, let me make sure I understand what you are saying. There is a possible world where God chooses to give us direct, obvious, empirical proof of his existence, answers all atheist and nonbeliever questions, and in which we are redeemed, yet God chose instead to actualize a possile world where he keeps us ignorant and people fight bloody religious wars over questions he could answer while still redeeming us. Am I drawing a correct implication from your claim?

  • Steven Carr

    I have an amusing short story about the absurdity of Plantinga’s defense at http://stevencarrwork.blogspot.co.uk/2005/09/god-omniscience-free-will-and.html

  • augustine

    “To my mind, “is not logically incompatible with what we know” is sort of the final gasp in the god of the gaps argument.”

    There are two versions of the problem of evil–the logical version and the evidential version. If the logical version carries, the God is proven not to exist deductively. However, most philosophers (even atheists) have concluded that Plantinga defeated this version. But the evidential version can still be put forth–it just doesn’t provide the slam-dunk against theism that the logical version tried to provide.

    “There is a possible world where God chooses to give us direct, obvious, empirical proof of his existence, answers all atheist and nonbeliever questions, and in which we are redeemed, yet God chose instead to actualize a possile world where he keeps us ignorant and people fight bloody religious wars over questions he could answer while still redeeming us. Am I drawing a correct implication from your claim?”

    No, what I’m saying is that the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that there is another possible world that would lead to the same or a higher number of people coming into a saving relationship with God while containing less evil than this world. Unfortunately for the atheist, no human is in an epistemological position to demonstrate that (with the reality of chaos theory, etc.)

    • Steven Carr

      AUGUSTINE
      No, what I’m saying is that the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that there is another possible world that would lead to the same or a higher number of people coming into a saving relationship with God while containing less evil than this world.

      CARR
      Go tell the Red Cross that they cannot reduce the amount of evil in this world, because they will laugh at you.

      According to Christians, Christian charities are the most absurd institutions in the world, because apologists scoff at the idea that even their hypothetical god can reduce the amount of evil in the world, let alone the Salvation Army.

      AUGUSTINE
      However, most philosophers (even atheists) have concluded that Plantinga defeated this version.

      CARR
      Try again. This time actually producing a refutation.

      Start with – Plantinga claims his god is a logically necessary being and exists in ALL worlds where evil exists, and get to ‘Plantinga has proved his god exists in ONE world where evil exists.’, and try to convince us that the second claim of Plantinga’s proves that the first claim is true.

      It doesn’t. which is why apologists simply pretend no atheist has ever refuted them, and ignore the refutations that have been given by atheists, claiming that they don’t exist.

  • Jorg Müller

    Rosenberg has free will, nobody forced him to anything. If he decides to babble nonsense, then he’s the weaker debater. If you look the debate from beginning to end, can you see any difference in the tact, dignity and attitude that the debaters had? Atheists mock Craig as stupid, Dawkins mocks Spiritual people as stupid – I wonder when all is said and done – who is studid.

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