a bonobo humanity?

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

how to debate William Lane Craig, or not – part one, in which WLC presents his case

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Some years ago I did a wee post on William Lane Craig – to the effect that he was a pushover, more or less. Yet Craig keeps on debating, and claiming ‘victims’. It depends on who you speak to or read, but there’s no doubt that Craig has appeared to come off best in most of the innumerable, and same-ish debates he engages in with atheist academics and/or celebrities. There’s even a forum-type website here, which declares to the world ‘you are not qualified to debate WLC’ (unless you’ve been studying all that WLC has been studying for the last twenty-odd years). Oddly, though the writer also declares that WLC’s arguments aren’t that good, so WTF? (I just threw that in there to go with WLC).

So I’m going to prove this writer, Andrew, wrong, by debating WLC right now, and comprehensively thrashing him. I’m going to base WLC’s presentation on a recent debate he had, last month, with ‘the 13th most important atheist in the world’, Alex Rosenberg, whom I’d never heard of before listening to this debate. The debate, called, ‘Is faith in God reasonable?’ followed a format which seems to be of WLC’s devising, in which he always goes first and sets out five points, or six, or as in this case eight (it was a big event), which show why said faith is reasonable (the debate topic could be ‘does God exist?’ or variants thereof, and he could trot out the same six or eight points). He gets 20 minutes or so to do this, and finishes by saying something like – ‘these eight arguments must each be refuted for the opposition to be taken seriously’.  And so the opposition, namely myself (under my esteemed alias Luigi Funesti-Sordido, founding Secretary of the Urbane Society of Sceptical Romantics) will have twenty minutes to refute these eight points, after which there are 12 minutes each for rebuttals, and five minutes each of summing up, then a Q and A session.

But that’s not how this debate will go. Stay tuned for the drama…

WLC makes his way to the podium and begins. I’ve presented his arguments here virtually as-is, with just a bit of editing-out of examples and recapitulations, etc. Go to the debate for the full version.

WLC : I believe that God’s existence best explains a wide range of the data of human experience. Let me mention eight.

First, God is the best explanation of why anything at all exists. Suppose you see a ball by the roadside and you wonder how it got there, and your mate says ‘don’t worry about it, it just exists, there’s no explanation for it’, you’d think this was crazy, and you’d think the same thing even if the ball was swollen up to the size of the universe. So what is the explanation of the universe? It can lie only in a transcendent reality, beyond the material universe, and this transcendent reality is metaphysically necessary in its existence. Now there’s surely only one way to get a contingent universe out of a necessarily existing cause, and that is if the cause is a personal agent who can freely choose to create a contingent reality. It therefore follows that the best explanation of the contingent universe is a transcendent, personal, being, that’s to say, God. In sum, 1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence. 2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being. 3. The universe is a contingent thing. 4 Therefore the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1,3). 5. Therefore the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being (from 2,4).

Second, God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe. We have strong evidence that the universe isn’t eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning. In 2003, Borde, Guth and Valenkin were able to prove that any universe which has on average been in a state of cosmic expansion, cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the very early universe. Because we don’t yet have a quantum theory of gravity, we can’t yet provide a physical description of the first split-second of the universe, but the B-G-V theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that the quantum vacuum state, which may have characterized the early universe, cannot be eternal in the past, but must have had an absolute beginning. Even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called multiverse composed of many universes, their theorem requires that the multiverse itself must have had an absolute beginning. Of course, highly speculative scenarios, such as loop quantum gravity models, string models, even closed time-like curves have been proposed to try to avoid this absolute beginning. These models are fraught with problems, but the bottom line is that none of these models, even if true, succeeds in restoring an eternal past. Last spring at a conference in Cambridge celebrating the 70th birthday of Stephen Hawking, Valenkin delivered a paper entitled, ‘Did the Universe have a beginning?’, which surveyed current cosmology with respect to that question. He argued, and I quote, ‘none of these scenarios can actually be past-eternal. He concluded, ‘all the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning’. But then the inevitable question arises, why did the universe come into being, what brought the universe into existence? There must have been a transcendent cause which brought the universe into being. In summary, 1. The universe began to exist. 2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause. 3 Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause. By the very nature of the case, that cause must be a transcendent, immaterial being. Now, there are only two possible things that can fit that description. Either an abstract object, like a number, or an unembodied mind or consciousness. But abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations. Therefore the cause of the universe is plausibly an unembodied mind or person, and thus we are brought not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal creator.

Third. God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world. Philosophers and scientists have puzzled over what physicist Eugene Wigner called, ‘the uncanny effectiveness of mathematics’. How is it that a mathematical theorist like Peter Higgs can sit down at his desk and predict through calculation the existence of a fundamental particle which experimentalists thirty years later after investing millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours are finally able to detect? Mathematics is the language of nature. But how is this to be explained? If mathematical objects are abstract entities, causally isolated from the universe, then the applicability of mathematics is in the words of philosopher of mathematics Penelope Maddy, ‘a happy coincidence’. On the other hand if mathematical objects are just useful fictions, how is it that nature is written in the language of these fictions? In his book Dr Rosenberg emphasizes that naturalism doesn’t tolerate cosmic coincidences, but the naturalist has no explanation of 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. We can summarize this argument: 1. If God did not exist, the applicability of mathematics would be a happy coincidence. 2. The applicability of mathematics is not a happy coincidence. 3. Therefore God exists.

Fourth. God is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. In recent decades, scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the initial conditions of the big bang were fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension. Now there are three live explanatory options for this extraordinary fine-tuning. Physical necessity, chance, or design. Physical necessity is not, however, a plausible explanation because the finely tuned constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature and therefore they are not physically necessary. So could the fine-tuning be due to chance? The problem with this explanation is that the odds of a life-permitting universe gotten by our laws of nature are so infinitesimal that they cannot be reasonably faced. Therefore the proponents of chance have been forced to postulate the existence of a world-ensemble of other universes, preferably infinite in number and randomly ordered so that life-permitting universes would appear by chance somewhere in the ensemble. Not only is this hypothesis to borrow Richard Dawkins’ phrase an ‘unparsimonious extravagance’, but, it faces an insuperable objection. By far, most of the observable universes in a world-ensemble would be worlds in which a single brain fluctuates into existence out of the vacuum and observes its otherwise empty world. Thus if our world were just a random member of a world-ensemble, we ought to be having observations like that. Since we don’t, that strongly disconfirms the world-ensemble hypothesis. So chance is also not a good explanation. It follows that design is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe, and thus the fine-tuning of the universe constitutes evidence for a cosmic designer.

Fifth. God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness in the world. Philosophers are puzzled by states of intentionality. Intentionality is the property of being about something, or of something. It signifies the object-directedness of our thoughts. For example I can think about my summer vacation, or I can think of my wife. No physical object has this sort of intentionality. A chair, or a stone, or a glob of tissue like the brain is not about, or ‘of’ something else, only mental states or states of consciousness are about other things. As a materialist, Dr Rosenberg recognizes this fact, and so concludes that on atheism there really are no intentional states. Dr Rosenberg boldly claims that we never really think about anything. But this seems incredible. Obviously, I am thinking about Dr Rosenberg’s argument. This seems to me to be a reductio ad absurdum of atheism. By contrast, on theism, because God is a mind, it’s hardly surprising that there should be finite minds. Thus intentional states fit comfortably into a theistic worldview. So we can argue 1. If God did not exist, intentional states of consciousness would not exist. 2. But intentional states of consciousness do exist. 3 Therefore God exists.

Sixth. God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties in the world. In moral experience we apprehend moral values and duties which impose themselves as objectively binding and true. For example, we all recognize that it’s wrong to walk into a school and to shoot little children and their teachers. On a naturalistic view however there’s nothing really wrong with this. Moral values are just the subjective by-product of biological evolution and social conditioning. Dr Rosenberg is brutally honest about the implications of his atheism. He writes ‘there’s no such thing as morally right or wrong, individual human life is meaningless and without ultimate moral value. We need to face the fact that nihilism is true.’ By contrast the theist grounds objective moral values in God and our moral duties in his commands. The theist thus has the explanatory resources which the atheist lacks to ground objective moral values and duties. Hence we may argue 1 objective moral values and duties exist 2 but if God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist 3 therefore God exists.

seven. God is the best explanation of the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. Historians have reached something of a consensus that Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God’s place. He claimed that in himself the kingdom of God had come., and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus evidence for the existence of God. Now I realize that most people think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just accept by faith, or not, but there are actually three facts recognized by the majority of historians, which I believe, are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus. Fact 1 On the Sunday after his crucifixion, Jesus’s tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. 2 On separate occasions different individuals and groups of people saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and 3 The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, despite having every predisposition to the contrary. The eminent British scholar N T Wright near the end of his 800-page study of the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection, concludes that the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances of Jesus had been established to such a high degree of historical probability as to be ‘virtually certain, akin to the death of Caesar Augustus in AD 17 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70’. Naturalistic attempts to explain away these three great facts, like ‘the disciples stole the body’ or ‘Jesus wasn’t really dead’ have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible naturalistic explanation of these facts. And therefore it seems to me that the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists. Thus we have a good inductive argument to the existence of God based on the facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus.

Eight. God can be personally known and experienced. This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence, rather it’s the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments, simply by personally experiencing him. Philosophers call beliefs like this ‘properly basic beliefs’. They aren’t based on some other beliefs, rather they’re part of the foundations of a person’s system of beliefs. Other properly basic beliefs would be belief in the reality of the past, or the existence of the external world. In the same way, belief in God is for those who seek him as properly basic, grounded in our experience of God. Now if this is so then there’s a danger that arguments for God could actually distract our attention from God himself. The Bible promises ‘draw near to God and he will draw near to you’. We mustn’t so concentrate on the external proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes a personal reality in their lives.

In summary then we’ve seen eight respects in which God provides a better explanation of the world than naturalism. For all of these reasons I believe that belief in God is eminently reasonable. If [the ineffable Mr Funesti-Sordido] is to persuade us otherwise, he must first tear down all eight of the reasons I’ve presented, and then in their place erect a case of his own to show why belief in God is unreasonable. Unless and until he does that, I think we should agree that it is reasonable to believe in God.

After the voluminous applause dies away, the redoubtable Luigi Funesti-Sordido, Founding Secretary of the (new) USSR rises to the occasion, and changes the world….

Written by stewart henderson

March 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

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