Tag Archives: William Lane Craig

Foundations of human morality.

How did he know it was the right thing to do?

Sam Harris caused a bit of a stir with his recent book The Moral Landscape.” While it upset religious apologists (gods didn’t come into his argument) it also caused debate among philosophers, scientists and fellow atheists.  Clearly his contribution was welcome and useful – but not all agreed with his ideas.

Most, but not all, of the criticisms relate to the question of a foundation or basis for human morality. I will leave aside, for the moment, the Christian apologist positions – which were recently re-rehearsed by WL Craig in a debate Is Good From God? – this caused a flurry amongst apologists who approach all of Craig’s debates like bigoted and vocal fans at a boxing match. This position relies on a naïve dogma that their god provides a “sound foundation for objective moral values and duties” – an axiomatic assumption which is never proven and is problematic even for many Christians.

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Limits of logic

I have commented before on the limitations of deductive logic – see “Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last). And how easily people manipulate logic by faulty reasoning and by assuming shonky premises. Very tempting for someone with a predetermined conclusion they wish to “prove.”

This brings to mind William Lane Craig who relies on such manipulation of logic for his debating prowess. This became an issue in his recent debate with Lawrence Krauss on evidence for existence of gods. Krauss describes how Craig  “systematically distorted” facts in his “continual effort to demonstrate how high school syllogisms apparently demonstrated definitive evidence for God.” (see Lawrence Krauss vs. William Lane Craig @ Pharyngula).

It is this distortion of logic which really puts me off any debate in which Craig participates. And I don’t think debates are useful anyway as a way of conveying information anyway. So I am not tempted to waste time viewing the video.

However, I did find the comments made after the debate by Krauss, and by Craig and one of his avid supporters, interesting.

Typically Craig provides a self-congratulatory analysis after each of his debates, declaring how clever he is and how silly was his opponent. In this case (see  A brief post-mortem) Craig claimed Krauss’s understanding of cosmology was “superficial” and declared himself “frankly flabbergasted by Krauss’s opening salvo attacking logic and the probability calculus.”

One of Craig’s avid supporters attributed to Krauss the claims that “logic doesn’t work,” “2+2=5, and we don’t know anything.” This Fan’s conclusion: “Rather than acknowledge the existence of God, to which logic and sound reasoning continue to lead us, atheists reject logic and sound reasoning. Krauss, to his credit, did manage to demonstrate this with profound success: atheism is irrational!”

I have often noted that religious apologists have a problem with honesty!

However, to get back to the issue of logic and its limitations. Here is how Lawrence Krauss puts it in his comments on the debate:

“Classical human reason, defined in terms of common sense notions following from our own myopic experience of reality is not sufficient to discern the workings of the Universe. If time begins at the big bang, then we will have to re-explore what we mean by causality, just as the fact that electrons can be in two places at the same time doing two different things at the same time as long as we are not measuring them is completely nonsensical, but true, and has required rethinking what we mean by particles. Similar arguments by the way imply that we often need to rethink what we actually mean by ‘nothing’, from empty space, to the absence of space itself.”

Krauss the author

Krauss is a great populariser of science and has written a number of popular science books. His latest one, out last month, is Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science . I am looking forward to reading this – especially after Chris Mooney‘s recent interview of Krauss on a Point of Inquiry podcast (see Lawrence Krauss – Quantum Man Mar 28, 2011). The author’s enthusiasm for his subject is obvious.

And talking of books – this last comment from Lawrence Krauss in his report on the debate looks interesting:

“I have taken great effort to describe our actual understanding of the Universe and its implications for understanding how it might be possible for something to come from nothing, i.e. non-existence, in my new book, which will come out in January of 2012.”

Looking forward to that book.

See also: This video of a talk by Krauss is relevant:

‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009.

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“Other ways of knowing” purpose?

A recent panel discussion in Mexico debated the question “Does the universe have a purpose?” The speakers for the affirmative were Rabbi David Wolpe, William Lane Craig and Douglas Geivett. And for the negative Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins.

I don’t think the discussion was very good. Contributions were short and the original video is in Spanish. It’s also full of hoopla. Reminds we of an international scientific congress I attended in Mexico some time ago. All the official meetings involved many young women as decoration. And the Mexicans are certainly a very musical people. Music was everywhere.

However, I have included a video below of the short contribution made by Richard Dawkins in this discussion. It gives an idea of the issues discussed:

Vodpod videos no longer available.Prof.Richard Dawkins destroys Dr.William Lane C…, posted with vodpod

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Why We Are Atheists

Book Review: 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk

Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (October, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1405190469
ISBN-13: 978-1405190466
Price: US$26.95

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Wow! A book about atheism and it’s not written by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett or Harris! That might be how some people react given the media linking of atheism with these names.

So this book is welcome partly because it helps break that knee-jerk reaction. Atheism is far more widespread than that. But it’s also welcome because many of its contributors advance interesting ideas.

50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists includes contributions mainly from philosophers, but also from scientists, science fiction writers, political activists and public intellectuals. They all responded to the request for “your explanation of why you do not subscribe to the view that there exists an all-powerful, omniscient, good entity running the universe.” Inevitably, they all answer the question differently. Readers will also react differently and will select different essays as their favourites. There’s plenty to choose from. And one advantage of a collection like this is that you can dip into it wherever you want.

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Godless cosmology

big_bang_337975Many people try to keep science and religion separate. Even believers will compartmentalise their religious beliefs separately from their scientific knowledge. In fact, some theologians see attempts to justify religious beliefs with scientific evidence as a slippery slope. Father George Coyne, for example, warned that scientific knowledge is relative. Conclusions alter as more evidence produces better knowledge of reality. Therefore a theology which justifies itself in scientific terms lays itself open to being proven wrong (see “Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder). Specifically this warning has been made when religious leaders have tried to justify their beliefs using “big bang” cosmology (see Bad science, bad theology).

Mind you – religious apologists who get started on this slippery slope have a solution. Just ignore, or deny, new scientific knowledge. Victor Stenger describes an example of this in his contribution, Godless Cosmology, to the new book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists.

He refers to the claim made by some apologists like Dinesh D’Souza and William Lane Craig that “big bang” cosmology shows that the universe, including space and time, started as a singularity. That this must have had an external cause – and you can guess what (or who) they claim for the cause.

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Hitchens in the lions’ den

I have never seen debates as a way of improving understanding. They are basically a sport – producing more heat than light. Michael Ruse once commented that he found he was a good debater because he could crack jokes. This just underlines that debates are about techniques, personality, turns of phrase, etc., not about facts.

Similarly the current preoccupation with the religion/atheism debates and who “won” them (eg. Craig v Hitchens: Dissecting the Debate UPDATE 2). Frankly I think a panel or one on one discussion is  a far better way of producing understanding. Richard Dawkins has recently been promoting this discussion format (eg. Lawrence Krauss – Richard Dawkins discussion).

However, for those wanting to treat the whole god debate as a spectator sport I can recommend this video for a bit of fun. Christopher Hitchens was invited to participate in a debate with four Christian apologists (five if the chairman, who participated freely is included). And in front of a motivated Christian audience. The subject: Does the God of Christianity exist, and what difference does it make?). Christopher Hitchens debated Lee Strobel, Douglas Wilson, William Lane Craig and Jim Denison at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas Texas during March. The discussion was “moderated” by  Christianity Today’s Stan Guthrie

It was a bit like a one against five tag wrestling match. And Hitchens clearly showed them all up. But, as several speakers admitted, Hitchens was brave to take up the challenge.

He certainly comes across as fearless. One can’t help but admire his skills.

Enjoy.

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