William Lane Craig has an opinion article fittingly posted at Fox News. It’s titled “A Christmas gift for atheists — five reasons why God exists.” I read it. If it is a gift, it’s the kind that’s worth less than the time it would take to return it for a refund.
Let’s just dive right in:
For atheists, Christmas is a religious sham.
In the very first sentence WLC begins being wrong. Xmas is different for all atheists, but for many (even most) it’s a great time. It’s a time to be with family, give gifts, drink eggnog, have sex outside of wedlock, and generally be happy. It’s not a sham, even if the story of Jesus is.
For if God does not exist, then obviously Jesus’ birth cannot represent the incarnation of God in human history, which Christians celebrate at this time of year.
How some Christians celebrate this time of year has no bearing on the value of family time, generosity, or kinky sex to everybody else. News flash: not all of us live to emulate some Christians.
WLC then drops a few paragraphs being pompous as hell (as is his wont), before getting into his five glorious reasons to believe in god.
1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe. Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.
First, WLC pays lip service to scientific evidence, suggesting that his conclusions are scientific. Do you know who doesn’t agree with WLC? The consensus of scientists, otherwise WLC’s conclusions would be represented in peer review. They aren’t because WLC has never tried to convince physicists or cosmologists, even though he continues to try and speak for them.
Second, our universe did have a beginning. But what caused it, if anything, is up in the air. For one thing, the rules of cause and effect that operate at the macro level are not the same laws that operate at the quantum level. This causes some things, like virtual particles and the decay of a radioactive nucleus, to occur without a cause.
But also, even if I were to concede that our universe must have a cause, why must this cause be god? We don’t know what caused our universe, but even if we had to just guess, why wouldn’t we guess that it was a natural cause? There was once a time when nothing was explained. Ever since that time literally everything we have explained, without exception, has been found to be the result of natural causes – of mindless forces acting upon inanimate objects. All of them. Why would any sensible person assume that an unknown cause would be otherwise?
And lastly, WLC has had this explained to him by physicists. Repeatedly. For someone who lauds science when he thinks it supports his position, this behavior reveals a disdain for science when it cannot serve WLC’s conclusions. This is not the behavior of somebody who gives one lick about what is true.
2. God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature’s laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.
The very first sentence is obviously false. The universe is not fine-tuned for life. Virtually every corner of the universe is a radiation-filled vacuum that is lethal to life. As Richard Carrier says, if you took a house as representative of the universe and took all the places where life is even possible (even if unlikely) it would be so microscopic that you could not find it even with the most powerful technology available to humankind. And no sensible person would conclude that the house was designed for this unfathomably microscopic piece of dust.
And even the parts of the universe where life is possible are not fine-tuned for life (and WLC has had this explained to him by scientists…repeatedly). For instance, it’s been established that without two of the four major forces in our universe (gravity and the weak nuclear force), stars would still form and the universe would look very much the same. You can even see that when we send human beings into zero gravity situations they don’t disintegrate or anything. This is not fine-tuning for life.
Again, although asserting that science has his back on this, WLC has never tried to convince the biologist/chemist community by submitting his work to peer review. Instead he attempts to speak for the experts (the one’s he’s unwilling to try and convince) with people on Fox News who, for the most part, had their last contact with biology/chemistry in high school. These are the tactics of a charlatan.
3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties. Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.
Yes, without a god who unequivocally commanded that people who work on Saturday be killed, how could we possibly know what is objectively good?
The discussion of morality is the discussion of what behaviors result in the greatest well-being for humankind. It’s how if we were commanded by a super powerful being to, say, kill our son, we would know that the moral thing to do is to say “no”, regardless of the power level of the being issuing the command. These are objective rules.
Now, what many will say is that these rules can’t be objective because they have changed throughout history and that people disagree on what they should be. But that we are constantly refining our understanding of what is most moral doesn’t mean it’s a subjective study. Consider for a moment that chemistry is as about objective a subject there is. And yet the periodic chart has gone through multiple revisions as our understanding of chemistry has evolved. This does not mean that chemistry is subjective, but that we’ve come to understand it better.
So it is with morality. The fact that we’ve grown to realize that slavery is immoral (despite what the bible says) and that discrimination creates suffering, rather than alleviating it (despite what the bible says), and that killing people for worshiping other gods or working on Saturday is positively wicked (despite what the bible says) does not mean that morality is subjective – it means our understanding about the objective truths of morality has grown. We may not have it down to an exact science yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t objectively say that generosity is objectively better for human well-being than wanton murder.
The moment we realize that in order to live a happy life we must interact positively with our neighbors, we’ve acquired all the motivation we need in order to conceive of moral rules. And if human beings are the ones trying to figure out the best ways to behave, we’d expect to see growing understanding and disagreements across culture. That is exactly what we see. Conversely, if god exists and made moral rules, there is an infinite number of ways he could’ve made them more clear – and done a better job than putting them into a book of historical inaccuracies, contradictions, and moral commands that would give Voldemort pause.
4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact. Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus performing miracles has not been confirmed by the historical community. This is either a lie or an egregious bit of ignorance, but false either way.
Likewise, it is not the consensus of historians that people saw Jesus alive after he was killed, and just as with scientists, WLC has made no effort to convince the experts of his views. WLC does, however, continue to put words in their mouths when he’s addressing laymen.
Here’s a possible explanation: even if a guy named Jesus existed who claimed to be god (he would certainly not be the first), that maybe the stories in the bible are exaggerations or plain ol’ stories like every other false miracle story throughout time that was believed (or is still believed) by masses of people willing to twist themselves into knots to justify it. WLC’s explanation, which he claims is the best, requires a suspension of the natural order. Mine only requires that people can believe things for bad reasons. The gullibility and weakness to indoctrination of human beings is much less of a stretch than “magic”.
5. God can be personally known and experienced. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.
Beliefs do transform people’s lives – but those beliefs do not need to be true. Believing in Islam has transformed people’s lives. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes much for the worse in the case of suicide bombers, people who defend child marriage, sexism, etc. on account of their newfound faith. That this belief can change a life says nothing to whether or not it’s true. Obviously.
Likewise, people have had their lives transformed by Christianity. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes much for the worse in the case of religious wars, Christian-based terrorism, homophobia, lost wages to charlatan priests, sexual guilt, fear of hell, etc. on account of their newfound faith. That this belief can change a life says nothing to whether or not it’s true. Obviously.
WLC would have us believe that every other believer of every other faith throughout history (the number of which vastly outnumber the Christians) does not serve as evidence of their god’s existence. These people were either lying, deluded, or crazy. But for one religion among all of them, the people who say they directly interact with god (just like the followers of other faiths) is proof that their religion is true. Here’s a thought: if most people claiming to speak with god throughout history were in error, why not just conclude that all of them are?
And if god really wants us to know and experience him, why not make himself as palpable as the people we can really know and experience? If I want to talk to my fiancee, I talk to her. She talks back. She’s there. That’s a relationship, and it’s one that nobody has ever shared with god.
The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!
It’s a bit ironic for WLC to assert that he’s wielding the best scientific and historical evidence we have when he is advancing positions not held by the experts in those fields. Even still when the experts in those fields have explained to WLC multiple times why he is misrepresenting their conclusions.
And atheists do not want something to believe in. We already believe in plenty of things (I’d put my stamp of approval on at least 90% of the things on wikipedia). But we only want to believe what makes sense, and a guy rising from the dead and walking on water through magical powers granted by a magic man who both loves everybody and created cancer and hell makes zero sense. But people being indoctrinated and turned into pretentious jerks by a religion, such that they think they should get to dictate how other people celebrate a holiday? There’s plenty of evidence for that, and it requires no magic to explain.
And lastly, Christmas is worth celebrating, for in humankind is the potential to appreciate the beauty of fresh snow, the ability to realize the value of generosity, love for our families, etc. These things are very much worth our holiday cheer.
And if you, specifically, want to cheer for a being that once proudly committed genocide against all of humanity (while you simultaneously condemn the architects of the holocaust), go nuts. But that’s on you. There is no “right” way to celebrate the Winter Solstice, there is only a person’s own way. Personally, I think humanity and Christmas are both better without interrupting our eggnog to pay homage to the genocidal god of the bible, the one who needlessly watched his son die as he has watched billions of children throughout history die of the diseases he created: able to stop it but unmoved to do so. Although, I’ll throw in a little extra joy during the holidays that such a god could not exist if WLC’s brand of trite, factually errant arguments are all that exist to support it. And I will be always grateful that many members of the human species possess a desire to alleviate suffering that this character of god to whom WLC is so attached does not.
And I will hope, not pray, that the following generation is largely spared the indoctrination that has corrupted WLC, reducing his ability to reason to the point that he’s willing to ignore the conclusions of science to believe that his five arguments are remotely convincing (that is, assuming he’s not just a charlatan looking to make a buck by duping people eager to believe). Looking at the statistics for faith in the upcoming generation, the trends favor us. Cheers.
David McAfee has gone ham on Craig as well. You can read his piece here.