Tag Archives: William Lane Craig

Another god debate


Apparently Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig went head to head this weekend on the question of “the existence of God in light of contemporary cosmology.”

Usually I think these sort of debates are a waste of time but am keen to see the video of this one – it will be on Youtube eventually. In previous debates Craig attempts to use cosmology to “prove” the existence of his god (I use the word “use” as meaning very opportunist use of motivated reasoning). In most debates his opponents are usually not completely familiar with modern cosmology and he gets away with murder in his misrepresentation of the science.

But Sean Carroll is a different proposition. Not only is Sean a researcher and teacher in cosmology he is also an excellent communicator of science. His recent bookThe Particle at the End of the Universe, won last year’s Royal Society Winton Prize for best science book (see The particle at the end of the universe’ wins Winton Prize).


Nor is he intimidated by Craig’s acknowledged debating skills. He says in a blog post before the debate:

“You can find some of WLC’s thoughts on the upcoming event at his Reasonable Faith website. One important correction I would make to what you will read there: Craig and his interlocutor Kevin Harris interpret my statement that “my goal here is not to win the debate” as a strategy to avoid dealing with WLC’s arguments, or as “a way to lower expectations.” Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”

I think his tongue was in his cheek with the last sentence.

His suggestion for viewers:

“Feel free to organize viewing parties, celebrations, discussion groups, what have you. There should definitely be a drinking game involved (it’ll be happy hour on the West Coast, you lightweights), but I’ll leave the details to you. Suggested starting points: drink every time WLC uses a syllogism, or every time I show an equation. But be sure to have something to eat, first.”

Thanks to God and Cosmology Debate with W.L. Craig

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William Lane Craig’s philosophy – the condensed version

PZ Myers can certainly find the right turn of phrase – or cartoon. I thought this one in his post Plaintive logic made a necessary point.

What is it with philosophers of religion and syllogisms? They seem to think that simply listing their (usually faulty) premise and a conclusion somehow provides a water-tight deduction. Good enough to prove that their loving god created the universe, was also responsible for morality and fine tuning! Apparently also responsible for the logic they use (which is convenient).

Or are they just demonstrating they can count to 3 (or 5)?

Theological pretzel twisting

I guess we should not be surprised that theological arguments often fall back on authority –  after all they have invented the biggest authority ever. The answer to everything (and you don’t have to be able to count to 42 – 3 will do).

Their god!

But it does provide them a useful cop-out whenever they run into problems during discussion with others – especially non-theists. Appeal to authority!

Usually they are savvy enough to use a more worldly authority – often themselves but usually other theologians, or philosophers of religion, who have “destroyed” the argument presented many times over. And because it is an appeal to authority you must take their word for it. Your argument has been destroyed, and so thoroughly they are not going to bother with the details.

So it was nice to see another philosopher dealing them some of their own medicine (see God fails triple morality test). And on a specific argument I referred to previously in my post The argument from authority (or lack thereof). In that I mentioned how a local blogger advocating a religious divine command morality had “destroyed” the Euthyphro Dilemma:

“Applied to this situation the dilemma for “divine command” ethicists is – are “moral truths” ” good and just because God wills it.” Or does “God wills it because it is good and just.” Inevitably in any real situation such an ethicist is making her moral decision for her god by appealing to some other outside source of morality. Or they talk themselves into the silly position the apologist W. L. Craig did recently when he ended up justifying biblical infanticide, genocide and ethnic cleansing – because it was commanded by his god (see Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide).

The blogger resorted to an argument from authority by declaring “Euthyphro Dilemma has been well and truly dealt with by divine command meta-ethics. This has been done so many times I find it incredible that anyone still brings it up!” As far as he was concerned that was the end of it. No details were going to be discussed under his watch.”

Well, here is what Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York, thinks of such “destruction.” Referring to the “popular idea that morality comes from God” he says:

That was soundly refuted by Plato in the Euthyphro, and despite thousands of years of desperate theological pretzel twisting the refutation stands.

Nicely put!

I must remember that term – “pretzel twisting.”

via Rationally Speaking: God fails triple morality test.

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Moral strawmannery

If you have ever searched the internet for a section of text from Darwin’s writings you will have noticed that most of the links that come up are to creationist websites and blogs. What we are seeing is simple dishonest quote mining. Somebody makes a claim about evolution, Darwin or Darwinism, attaches a mined quote – and the quote then has a life of its own. It gets repeated ad nauseum by the creationist echo chamber – with hardly any of the users bothering to check the quote against the original for accuracy – let alone context.

Mining quotes from Darwin

Here’s one taken from Darwin’s The Descent of Man.  It’s from Chapter IV: Comparison of the mental powers of man and the lower animals. In this Darwin discusses the evolution of a moral sense, sociability, social instincts and virtues, rules of conduct and religious beliefs. After arguing against the idea that a different social animal “if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours” Darwin wrote:

“If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.” (Bold added)

Recently I have seen the quote reproduced by numerous religious apologists and creationists arguing against “secular morality.” (Almost always the section in bold is omitted – usually evidence that users are just copying and pasting from other apologist posts or articles). And they interpret this to mean that a moral and social code held by a human species that has evolved must be the same as the most basic of animals or insects.

See, for example Flannagan’s When Scientists Make Bad Ethicists and Weikhart’s Can Darwinists Condemn Hitler and Remain Consistent with Their Darwinism?  Flannagan asserts:

“it is unlikely that a loving and just person could command actions such as infanticide or rape whereas, evolution, guided only by the impersonal forces of nature, is not subject to such constraints.”

Weikart has made a reputation of ascribing the morality of Nazism to Darwin (he is the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress). He says:

“if morality is the product of these mindless evolutionary processes, as Darwin and many other prominent Darwinists maintain, then “I don’t think [they] have any grounds to criticize Hitler.””


“To natural selection killing your siblings and offspring is all the same as loving them. Selection only favors what works to enhance survival and reproduction, and it does not matter if it is nice and moral, or harsh and brutal.”

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Demolishing Craig on morality

Here’s another video on human morality.

This from a series produced by Qualia Soup. It’s the third in a series of four, so far.

Morality 3: Of objectivity and oughtness.

This one is interesting because it demolishes the naive deductive logic used by William Lane Craig who claims morality as a “proof” for the existence of his god. It also deals with the common misinterpretation of Hume’s “is-ought” problem.

Thanks to: Debunking Christianity.

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Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide

Genocide is good if your god commands it!

William Lane Craig went ahead with his “empty chair for Dawkins” stunt in his Oxford appearance. While many of his fans loved the trick, Craig didn’t get off unharmed by his stalking of Richard Dawkins. Obviously some of Craig’s fans are concerned about Dawkins’ reference to Craig’s justification of biblical genocide. So he was forced to confront the issue during question time.

While most of Craig’s fans applauded his answer, others were rather shocked. Here’s how one reporter at the event described it (see William Lane Craig vs. Chair of Dawkins ):

“However, ultimately one question exposed Craig’s alarmingly questionable moral principles: “Dawkins has refused to debate you because (he says) you think genocide could be acceptable in some contexts. Have you ever said anything which warrants this view, and what do you actually think?” He started with the straightforward denial that we expected – “I have not in any way ever said that God commanded, or could command, human genocide”. However, the following ten minute explanation of Numbers 33:50-54 (look it up) did not involve a justification of genocide, merely a justification of the mass displacement of an ethnic group; the kicker at the end was his summary that if this forced displacement did involve killing some Canaanites, well the adults deserved it because they were sinful, and it’s alright because the children went straight to heaven. Seriously?”

“The widespread applause this statement extracted from the audience was possibly more alarming than the statement itself. Somewhere up in the wings a lone voice was shouting “Boo”; the news editor and I stared gormlessly; the rest of the spectators seemed to find this little speech all fine and dandy. I am a religious person, and as a person of faith (not in spite of it) I was morally repulsed by this analysis, and deeply concerned about the intellectual and moral fibre of the believers who found it commendable.”

“The only benefit of the doubt that I can possibly extend to Craig (and I am scraping the barrel) is that under pressure he grasped at the nearest explanation for Biblical injustices which came to mind, and would – hopefully will – qualify his extraordinary comments at some later date. I shan’t hold my breath.”

And from another report of the same event ( see Craig strikes back at genocide smear):

“However, in a question and answer session near the end of the debate, Craig’s response to the accusation that he approves of Biblical genocide provoked murmurs of disapproval from parts of the audience, and a loud boo from the upper wings.

“There was no racial war here, no command to kill them all,” he initially said, referring to extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, “the command was to drive them out.”

Then Craig said: “But, how could God command that the children be killed, as they are innocent?”

“I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture. “

One attendee, who wished not be named, called Craig’s argument “alarming”: “I’m a Christian who generally agrees with Craig’s ideas but what he said for the last question was simply disturbing. He completely contradicted himself, one minute saying that, effectively, no children were killed in the genocide, only to say later on that it was OK that children died, that it was God’s will, and that they were saved from a debauched culture.”

He added: “I believe in a benevolent God, but that didn’t sound very benevolent at all.”

I suspect Craig will come to regret the way he has approached this problem. He has the habit of inventing explanations for things and sticking to them. even declaring his opponents are dishonest or illogical if they don’t accept his arguments.

But when it comes to strong moral issues like genocide more and more of his fans will come to see these arguments as disingenuous. Especially if he repeats his justifications ad nauseam. A habit of his.

Credit: Photo by Apolgetics 315. Yes the photo is doctored – but not by me.

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Outsourcing moral decisions to justify genocide

A while back I participated in a discussion involving a number of non-theists and theists. You can guess which side I was on. But I bore no ill feelings to the theists – and why should I have? These discussions are largely harmless.

But when the discussion turned to biblical genocide I found I had very strong feelings of hostility to one of the theists, a local minister of religion. Why? Because here I found someone who was blatantly justifying the slaughter of thousands of people. Genocide! And he justified it because he thought those people had been sinful!

Perhaps some people might think my reaction naïve. But I feel exactly the same hostility towards people who justify the Stalin terror, the victimisations and murders of Mao’s so-called “cultural revolution”, Pinochet’s slaughter of Chilean democrats, Hitler’s slaughter of Jews, Slavs, homosexuals and communists, Pol Pot’s murder of intellectuals, and so on. And in my life I have come across people arguing to justify the genocide in all these cases. I really don’t see the justification of biblical genocide any differently. If you can make such  justifications perhaps you are also capable of carrying out such atrocities.

So I can understand why Richard Dawkins recently expressed such feelings of disgust about the justification of biblical genocide by William Lane Craig (see Dawkins responds to a stalker – Craig gets his debate).

We have yet to hear Craig’s response. But he has clearly endorsed that genocide
and I can’t see that his response can be at all human – unless he withdraws that

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Dawkins responds to a stalker – Craig gets his debate

Last year when I was at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne there was a motley little crew of creationists (3 I think) outside heckling people and demanding that Richard Dawkins debate evolution with them. Just one example of people who try to hitch their cause on to the fame and reputation of others.

And what arrogance. Dawkins was travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand for lectures and other appearances. He arrived as the last speaker at the convention having flown from Auckland where he had lectured the night before. An extremely busy man. And I am sure audiences appreciated his willingness to make these efforts to communicate his love of science and counter the childish rumours some people put out about him.

And even more arrogant – these creationists accused Dawkins of cowardice because he refused to debate them! (Actually he probably didn’t even know they existed).

Debating an empty chair

Recently we have seen a similar arrogance from William Lane Craig. Wishing to boost his audience during his current UK visit Craig demanded Dawkins debate him. Then he promoted a cowardice story and attempts to make a point by debating an empty chair instead. Childish. But also publicity seeking.

Frankly I think Dawkins was perfectly correct to turn down a debate request.  So does Sharon Hill who wrote:

“Debates are not about who has the best facts, it’s about who is the best debater – something completely different. And, debates are for the audience. If the audiences comes into the debate, entrenched in their views, they leave loving their champion even more.”

I think Dawkins has hit on a better approach with the public discussions he has promoted. Here two authorities can sit down and have a reasoned discussion, presenting evidence, outlining their differences as well as where they agree. Much better than the public punch-up of the debate format and the bloodletting pronouncements of winners and losers from the fanboys.

Craig’s dark side

I wondered if Dawkins should respond to Craig by offering a public discussion – something Craig has no skills in. But clearly Dawkins’ objections to Craig run deeper than differences over debate formats. He says in a recent article (Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig) that he just wouldn’t share a platform with the man. Because of Craig’s  “dark side, and that is putting it kindly.” Craig’s “refusal to “disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.”

Dawkins quotes extensively and convincingly from Craig to justify his claim (he calls them “revolting words”). Have a look at the article for the details.

However, it strikes me that Craig has now got the debate he wanted – but not on his own terms as he usually insists. Dawkins has called his bluff. Up till now Craig was effectively stalking Dawkins. Harassing him in the hope of getting cheap publicity. Dawkins has basically ignored him

But now Dawkins has laid down a challenge. He has pointed out Craig’s support for some of the worst action and justifications of Christianity and religion.

Inevitably Craig and his many apologist fans, will retaliate. Not in the format they want. Nor on the subject they demanded. But it would be inconceivable for them to ignore the challenge.

So the debate is on. Let’s keep it clean. Dawkins has laid down his criticisms – it’s up to Craig and his supporters to put up their defence, if they can.

I think so far it is Dawkins 1: Craig 0.

William Lane Craig’s “logic”

I don’t know how long this video will survive on YouTube. It’s a takeoff of William Lane Craig and his “logic.” Apparently Craig has made several attempts to remove it.

Personally, I think there is room for many more of these videos – Craig’s debates could be mined for multiple examples of faulty logic.

William Lane Craig Is Not A Meatloaf – YouTube.

Craig brings some clarity to morality?

Interesting! Is there a second wave of interest in Sam Harris’s ideas on human morality?

Sam Harris

Sure, many religious apologists really didn’t want to challenge these ideas until WL Craig had said his bit – preferably by way of a debate with Harris. And they got that debate a few days back. But that is hardly serious – they are reacting more like faithful fans at a boxing match. A common problem with debates. Even Craig appears to have a realistic understanding of  his cheerleaders (although he attributes the phenomenon to “the free thought subculture” and not his own fans).

PZ Myers

But I wonder if that debate might have initiated some rethinking by some of Sam’s original nonreligious critics. Here’s an interesting comment by PZ Myers in his blog post Harris v Craig. He admits to having felt “bugged” after his first reading of The Moral Landscape.” Then adds:

“I kept trying to make, I think, a judgment based on whether we can declare an absolute morality based on rational, objective criteria. I was basically making the same sort of internal argument that William Lane Craig was making in his debate at Notre Dame, and it’s fundamentally wrong — it’s getting all twisted up in philosophical head-games based on misconceptions derived from the constant hammering of theological presuppositions in our culture.”

I think this is a very perceptive comment. It helps explain  my disappointment with some of Sam’s non-religious critics who fell back on the mantra that “you can’t get an ought from an is.”

Obviously Sam Harris won’t have the full story but he has made an important contribution with his book. Important because he has refused to be taken in by that philosophical mantra. Also because he has mobilised a much-needed debate among philosophers, scientists and the nonreligious about morality. And particularly consideration of the problem of moral relativism.

But Myers is also raising the problem of how theology and religious philosophy has been able to influence even the nonreligious and create “misconceptions derived from the constant hammering of theological presuppositions in our culture.”

So good for you PZ. You were able to recognise where you made a mistake. Perhaps the debate format has in this case actually had a  positive effect. PZ says:  “It was very helpful to see Harris’s views presented in contrast to a dogmatic fool like Craig, and suddenly it was clear where the truth lies.”

And thanks for helping the rest of us see an important problem. Theology and religious philosophy may currently have little influence in the natural sciences. (although they still motivate external attacks such as the legal attempts to impose the teaching of creation). But their dead hand still has an influence in areas like philosophy.

It’s important to recognise this and be aware when it sometimes affects even the nonreligious philosophers. Or scientists who accept some popular philosophical ideas uncritically.

See also: Foundations of human morality.

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