Science

Debate is up! William Lane Craig vs. Sean Carroll at New Orleans Greer-Heard Forum

Good folks, the much talked about debate between William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll is now available for viewing on YouTube (embedded below). The proceedings from the second day, which you will recall included presentations and responses by two members from each side (Alex Rosenberg and Tim  Maudlin with Carroll and Robin Collins and James Sinclair with Craig) don’t seem to be available yet but should be shortly. After you watch, I recommend you check out the comment section of Sean Carroll’s post for some opinions on how he fared.

Enjoy (and post your thoughts below)!

The Main Event:

This is not a dress rehearsal: Sean Carroll vs. William Lane Craig – Greer Heard Forum 2014

UPDATE: The debate is now available to watch here!

Well, the much anticipated debate between Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll and theologian William Lane Craig happened this weekend in New Orleans and was – at least to me – as enjoyable as expected. The event was hosted by the Greer-Heard Forum and consisted of a formal debate between the headliners on Friday night and subsequent readings, discussions, and responses to papers by two members each from Team Naturalism (Tim Maudlin of NYU and Alex Rosenberg of Duke) and Team Theism (Robin Collins and James Sinclair). The entire ordeal was streamed live – yes I spent my Friday night and Saturday afternoon watching – and ended with a short panel discussion and Q&A.

All in all, it was an entertaining forum and I was very grateful the event was streamed. In case you weren’t one of the 10,000 people or so watching live and still want to see the proceedings, stay tuned as the videos should all be made available on YouTube in a couple of days (likely on the Tactical Faith page). I will make sure to update this post with the links as soon as they’re ready.

Now, why was I so excited about this debate you ask? Haven’t I grown tired of listening to William Lane Craig distort science in order to prop up his arguments for theism? Don’t I think these debates are really a waste of time and that no one actually leaves with their mind changed? Well, WLC is grating on the ears (and head….because of the induced face-palming), and I think I would have avoided this debate had his opponent been anyone other than Sean Carroll. You see, Sean has a few things that many naturalists (and he prefers that term to atheist as it’s more comprehensive of his worldview – and I think I agree) sadly don’t: not only does Sean have all the good arguments, he can communicate them well and is likable. That last quality seems a little shallow – yes ideas should stand on their merit not the personality of the one espousing them – but debates like this are part performance art, and it’s difficult to get people to consider your point of view if you come across as, well, unlikable. Finally, Sean is without a doubt an expert on cosmology, and could pretty easily (it was a little embarrassing actually) shut down WLC’s naive arguments hinged on misunderstandings of the literature. Finally – I said finally already so finally, finally – Sean is fairly well versed in philosophy and not as dismissive of the practice as some other cosmological experts that have debated WLC.

So who won? Well, WLC technically always loses on substance in these types of things, but does admittedly usually win on style and rhetoric. He’s an extremely practiced debater and I’ve heard tell that he even has a team of researchers who help him prepare. But in reflection – and I’m striving to be as unbiased as possible – I do think Sean Carroll came away on top. This was one of the few formal debates where I’ve seen WLC flustered and actually less organized and clear than his opponent (he’s been known to fall apart in informal discussions but hardly ever in the podium vs. podium battles). Sean repeatedly addressed specific points by WLC, clearly refuted them, and then moved on to offer his own structured arguments against theism. The most frustrating aspect was watching WLC simply ignore Sean’s corrections and refutations, and pretend as if his argument was just as good as before – thankfully Sean pointed this out and I think it was pretty clear to the audience as well.

My favorite part of the debate came during Sean’s closing remarks, when he purposely forwent the opportunity to continue refuting Craig’s ideas and instead spent time addressing the bigger questions of the naturalism vs. theism debate. Nobody becomes a believer because they think God provides the best explanation for our modern understanding of cosmology (that was, by the way, the topic of the forum) – they do so for other reasons, be they fellowship, community, a feeling of transcendence or hope, etc. So why naturalism seems far and away a more reasonable alternative to theism, particularly if you take the implications of modern science seriously, it still doesn’t help provide us with answers to those deep questions of meaning. Answering those deep questions, Sean says, is a challenge for all humanity, and to answer them we’ll need to in some sense start the conversation over. (I’m really not doing this section justice from memory so I’ll make sure to post the link when it’s ready).

In conclusion – Sean did a terrific job and I hope he continues engaging in these types of debates. You can see his own post-debate thoughts here. Also, you’ll notice I didn’t do a point-by-point review of the debate – the cosmological arguments were way too technical for me to make a competent attempt at something like that but you should have luck googling one.

Debate reflection: Lawrence Krauss vs. William Lane Craig in Melbourne

I’ve now watched two of the three “Life, the Universe and Nothing” debates between cosmologist Lawrence Krauss (LK) and apologist/theologian William Lane Craig (WLC), and wanted to share my reflections. While some will undoubtedly try, it is impossible to assert who really “won” in any of these debates – they are (thankfully) better described as dialogues – and you’ll notice that in any event most opinions about such a thing tend to line up with the person’s preferences beforehand. I will try my best to be objective, but to guard against any bias will also make a point to post reviews that differ with mine as I find them. Of course, the best thing you can do if you’re interested is to simply watch the debates yourself.

First, to mimic Krauss’ opening statement in the Brisbane debate (I’ll post my reflections on Brisbane later), I want to lay out my biases in detail. I consider WLC a minor intellectual (case in point, he’s more famous for his activity on the debate circuit and for his Christian apology books than for any scholarly work or major contributions to philosophy), and think he is often deceitful in his use of language and argument. He is, in my opinion, much more style than substance, and has a habit of making sweeping generalizations about areas outside his specialty, namely ancient history and cosmology, as well as taking others’ words out of context and/or distorting their intended views. I have also never seen him (and can hardly imagine him doing so) concede that he was or has ever been wrong. This last point is a major concern, as it’s difficult to trust someone who is not legitimately open to changing his or her opinion given new arguments or information.

Also, in full disclosure, I think the ethos of science – characterized namely by skepticism, peer-review, open inquiry, and test-ability – is more effective at determining truth than the general ethos of religion – characterized namely by deferral to authority, tradition, revelation, and personal experience.

With that said, I will just make the following observations about the dialogue in Melbourne, for which the topic was “Is a belief in God reasonable?”:

  • LK over-stated the similarities between Jesus and contemporary pagan/mythic Gods like Dionysus, Krishna, Horus, et al. The tropes of these mythic stories do have similarities with Jesus, including virgin births and resurrections, but I agree with WLC that the evidence Jesus was a whole-sale copy of any of these Gods is lacking. If anyone knows of credible scholarship in this area, please let me know, as I’ve been unable to find much.
  • I think WLC is (charitably) exaggerating when he says the testimony of the Gospels can be traced to “within 5 years” of Christ’s death. This seems absurdly early compared to the estimates I’ve heard elsewhere, and he would have to get there indirectly because the earliest written accounts we have do not come up until at least 20 years after Christ’s death. Again, any sources on this would be helpful.
  • LK is a bit out of his element in discussing morality and moral philosophy, and does much better when sticking to questions of science and particularly physics. That’s not to say Krauss is wrong, because I actually agree with him, but he’s just not as well-versed as Craig in this area and it gives the impression he’s losing the argument. Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan does a terrific job handling Craig on the question of morality in this debate.
  • Craig’s syllogisms, as Krauss correctly points out, are over-simplistic and based on premises that are likely wrong and very far from certain. Time and time again, what is astounding to me as I watch William Lane Craig present his 6 arguments (he always offers the same six) is how tenable the premises are, yet how certain he seems of their conclusions. The Cosmological Argument, for example, does what’s known in introductory logic as “begging the question” that is, assuming the conclusion in a premise intended to confirm the conclusion. To show how over-simplistic Craig’s syllogisms are, Krauss gave the audience a humorous one: “1) All mammals display homosexual tendencies, 2) William Lane Craig is a mammal … ” In any event, even if Craig’s syllogisms were proved correct, they wouldn’t get you from deism to theism, and certainty not from theism to Christianity. Debate opponents, other than Hitchens, tend to forget to point this out to Craig.
  • To me, the most effective part of Krauss’ strategy in this debate was just to continually ask Craig, “how do you know that?” and to show that there is nothing like absolute certainty in cosmology or ancient history, and that it’s therefore unreasonable to make such grand claims – and God is certainly a grand claim – without equally grand evidence.
  • Krauss effectively argues that Craig’s arguments could be used to support almost all the creation myths. Craig demurs on this, pointing out that few non-Christian creation stories having creation literally coming from nothing, but Krauss again argues that if you take those other stories metaphorically, they could just as well be supported by his syllogisms. He also traps Craig in highlighting the contradiction between saying the Bible isn’t a science textbook on one hand, then pulling out the pieces that agree with science and trying to prop it up as a book prescient of modern cosmology.
  • I think Craig’s weakest argument is the one regarding the resurrection. He – and this makes me pull my hair out every time I hear it – seems convinced that it’s actually more likely that 1) God exists (NOT a trivial assumption) 2) the Bible is true 3) Jesus was divine 4) Jesus rose from the dead and 5) Jewish oral tradition was immaculate, than it is that somebody stole Christ’s body and/or his followers either hallucinated or made-up visions. We have evidence for the latter happening all the time (think of UFO’s or the many cults that go in and out of existence each decade), but absolutely no evidence for someone rising from the dead (or of oral tradition being remotely consistent over large swaths of time). How is the former more reasonable than the latter? Craig seems to distort the alleged visions of Christ into a very narrow band, whereas he images hundreds of people having almost identical, independent experiences of Jesus at the same time. There’s just no objective evidence for that, and it’s such a cartoony, simplistic way to imagine the past that I feel embarrassed for him every time he utters it – he’s just so committed to believing in the Bible that he will ignore any evidence against it.

Before watching this debate, I heard rumors that Krauss dominated. I don’t think that’s the case (I actually think he did better in Brisbane), but I do think he was effective in showing uncertainty as a very real issue in cosmology and history, and thus demonstrated the inherent problems with Craig’s overly simplistic syllogisms.

Krauss seemed at times tired and more than frustrated at having to engage with a man who is so unlikely to ever change his views. As LK pointed out several times, Craig “assumes the answer before even asking the question,” and I can’t think of anything more opposed to reason than that.

 

Watch Now: William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, Melbourne debate now up!

The Melbourne discussion between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss has now been posted (meaning we’re only waiting on the one in Sydney). Jerry Coyne has a good overview of all the events here, and you can read my previous posts as well.

“Is it reasonable to believe in God?”

Watch: William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss Brisbane debate. Now up!

It’s here!

See previous post for background. Slight caveat – if you’re not familiar with WLC, you might think the other guy, Lawrence Krauss, is coming across a little rudely. He is, but that’s only because he considers WLC dishonest (see post here ) and agreed to the discussions (this is the first of three) mostly to make that point.

Enjoy:

Life, the Universe and Nothing: Has science buried God? from City Bible Forum on Vimeo.

William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss debate videos to be up tomorrow?

UPDATE 8-28-2013, 7:45am CST: Still nothing posted on the web, but should be sometime today. As far as I’m aware, it will only be the Brisbane video released for now (recall there were 3 events with both WLC and Krauss, and one with just Krauss in Perth). In the meantime, Krauss did tweet an update on his film, The Unbelievers, hinting it may come to NY and LA later this fall:

  1. hope to have update on Unbelievers distribution within a week. Spoiler alert: if you live in NYC or LA think late fall. Elsewhere stay tuned

After weeks of waiting, representatives from Life, the Universe and Nothing have stated that we should expect debate videos from this series featuring cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and apologist William Lane Craig to appear…tomorrow! Now, I’m not sure if that’s tomorrow in Australia, or tomorrow here, but I will post as soon as they are released.

Christians lie for their faith, and I get a personal email from Lawrence Krauss…

A few months ago, I attended a talk hosted by the local chapter of William Lane Craig’s apologist organization, Reasonable Faith. The discussion was centered on whether or not science has disproven God (admittedly no…but it doesn’t seem to point to one either) and was given by a local engineer and nice enough guy with an undergraduate degree in physics. I’m fairly informed of the stock arguments for and against God, particularly as they regard science, and was perhaps naively expecting to learn something. Instead, I was forced to squirm in my seat through an hour and a half of what could at best be called misrepresentations and at worst be called lies.

The presenter took countless quotes from scientists (most of them confirmed atheists) out of context in support of his particular Christian theology, attributing connotations not present in the original formation. He also inserted helping after helping of meta-physics, which is not science, and shouldn’t in my opinion have been part of the discussion since it quickly delved into attacking atheistic arguments that had nothing to do with science – again, not what the promised discussion was supposed to have been focused on. I’m not sure why, but nobody in the audience asked the speaker why 93% of NAS members remained atheists despite all this purported evidence for God…one would have to assume that the best scientists in the world are simply too dim to see the theological implications of their own work, but that you, lucky you, are special enough to see them.

I’m having trouble finding a link to the original physics slides online (you can download the biology version here), but I’ve posted the introductory slide below. You may note that of the three photos he chose to put up, only Dawkins has ever actually been a practicing scientist (and this was from the physics lecture, not biology). Daniel Dennett is a renowned philosopher, and Sam Harris has a neuroscience degree but is essentially an essayist. And really, a 75% youth exodus? Might that be helping to justify the lying?

Does Science Disprove God?

But my point is that the kind of dishonesty I witnessed should be troubling for any genuine Christian who is also committed to scientific and intellectual integrity. There are people out there who are so defensive about their faith that they are literally lying for it, and it reflects poorly on a large segment of believers.

Anyway, knowing physicist Lawrence Krauss had just finished debating William Lane Craig in Australia, I thought I would share with him the dishonesty that WLC’s organization is committed to spreading, so I tracked down the PowerPoint I had downloaded from the meeting and sent it to him via email. He responded almost immediately, and I now have what I consider almost better than an autograph – a personal email from Larry Krauss. Thanks, WLC.

Krauss calls WLC out for being a liar, con artist, and bathrobe salesman

Still patiently (well, less and less) waiting on the good folks at Life, the Universe and Nothing and City Bible Forum to release the videos from the three-part debate between cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and apologist William Lane Craig which took place in Australia over the last few weeks. So far the only way to get information on how the discussions went is to stalk facebook and the blogosphere for eyewitness reports.

In the meantime, however, the host group has published a couple interviews with WLC and Krauss, and the latter is characteristically frank. He explains, very simply, that he agreed to the discussions because he wanted to expose Craig as a “con-artist” and “liar” who distorts science in order to bolster his arguments for God. I’ve posted a few of the more interesting quotes from Krauss below, and you can read the entire interview here (the best part is when he calls out Craig for using his popularity as an apologist to sell bathrobes…really, go here):

“In this particular case, I also [agreed to the discussions] because I happen to think William Lane Craig abuses science and says many, many, many things that are not only disingenuous but untruthful, but recognises that his audience won’t know that. So one of the reasons I like to do these, and certainly why I agreed to allow the first one to be videotaped, is to demonstrate explicitly examples of where he says things that he knows to be manifestly wrong, but also knows that the audience won’t have access to the information. It amazes me because I wouldn’t presume to talk about theology and nor would I want to, although I’ve spent a lot of time with theologians. That’s what upsets me the most. I feel the same way about Deepak Chopra, who also usurps science in a different way. Dr Craig makes it appear as if (a) he understands the science, which he doesn’t and (b) as if the science provides some support. Where in fact, science tells us a wonderful story about the universe and it tells us that we don’t need anything beyond the laws of nature to understand what’s going on. That’s not a failing, that’s just the way it is.”

“I’ve had discussions with theologians who I think are much more honest [than Craig]. I first debated Dr Craig in North Carolina. I agreed to do it for this group called Campus Crusade for Christ, but I agreed to do it anyway because I thought he was an honest intellect and we could have a discussion. I think he’s wrong, but I thought we could have a discussion. But the minute he started talking I thought, ‘this guy is a con artist’ and I still think so.”

“Well, I said I’d never debate him again. But I agreed to do it publicly because I wanted to show that he was a liar. I think I did that, in my opinion, in the last debate. And I’ll do it again. I want to show what the science is. So I’ll show it again. Tonight I’ll show that he abuses the science but I agreed to do it mostly because the people who run this organisation [City Bible Forum] impressed me and against maybe my better judgement and after several meetings were I was highly suspicious, I was convinced that they were well-meaning people interested in honest discussion.”

“I have a double purpose: to promote some aspect of science, and I don’t care what people take away from it except some amazing aspects of the universe, and if it reinforces their faith I don’t give a damn, but also to recognize that they should listen to people who are honest and not trying to sell bathrobes on their website and raise money for ‘A Reasonable Faith’ by doing whatever they can. I mean, I have a day job and I think people should recognise that when they’re buying ideas they should ask whether the people selling them are making money off them.”

Does God Exist? William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, First Post-Debate Analysis

If you read my post here, you know WLC and Lawrence Krauss just finished a three-night debate series at various locations throughout Australia. The host organization is currently working on editing the videos, and they should be released soon. In the meantime, I’ve been following Life, the Universe and Nothing’s facebook page to read reactions from those in attendance, trying to piece together how each performed.

As you might expect, comments are mixed, with theists generally siding with WLC and skeptics with Krauss. Surprisingly, however, there is a little buzz suggesting that Krauss actually trounced WLC in the final debate (recall that WLC is almost never beaten in debates by atheists, not because he makes good arguments, but because he’s such a practiced and formidable debater). Here’s a brief review from Christadelphian Unbelievers:

I never thought that I would live to see William Lane Craig beaten in a debate with an Unbeliever; but tonight (16 August 2013) I saw him outgunned by Lawrence Krauss.
The moderated discussion in the Melbourne Town Hall was packed to the back and it was a thrilling night. Bill spoke first with his usual style and closely reasoned arguments. It was WLC at his best and I cringed at the thought of Lawrence having to handle such a strong presentation.But when it was LMK’s turn to speak we were treated to a devastating barrage of blockbuster points one after another that never seemed to end.

The moderated discussion afterwards was poorly moderated by someone who hardly spoke a word and at times looked as if he was reading a newspaper. The two protagonists tore into each other unrelentingly; but WLC sensed that he was fighting a losing battle and before long Krauss had taken over the evening.

In one sense there was nothing new in the points made. It was the dazzling new style of Krauss that amazed me. He’d done his homework, learned from his losses to WLC in the past and lifted his game substantially.

Nevertheless, Bill did well and acquitted himself with his usual dignity. He was firm, but respectful to Lawrence; his keen intelligence added considerable depth to the scintillating discussion. I only wish that the discussion had lasted into the early hours of the morning. It was superb.

I’m excited for the videos, and have been checking for them every day since last week (I will post as soon as they go up). Krauss apparently used a “bullshit” buzzer in the first debate to combat inaccuracies and lies, in addition to creating this post-debate video:

Reza Aslan calls Dawkins a “fool” and a “buffoon” … and you’re probably wondering who Reza Aslan is …

Reza Aslan, my friends, is the author of a few books on religious history, including his most recent, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, now a bestseller on Amazon. He’s been catapulted to what may or may not be brief fame for Zealot’s pretty sophisticated PR campaign, helped inadvertently by this dastardly interview on Fox News, where commentator Lauren Green attacked his credibility to pen a historical work on Jesus because, of all things, he’s a Muslim.

Aslan correctly pointed out to Green that one’s personal religious beliefs do not disqualify someone from writing a work of historical scholarship, and that he has several advanced degrees, including a Ph.D. in sociology with a concentration in religion (even though he refers to it somewhat slyly as a doctorate in the “history of religion” which actually doesn’t exist at the university where he studied), making him well-qualified to write such a book. I defended Aslan in a previous post here, prompted by the unconscionable campaign of defensive Christians to review-bomb Zealot on Amazon, even though they had clearly not read a single page of the book.  I’ve now read Zealot, and it was fine, though, exactly as I suspected, it’s mostly a popularization of other peoples’ work, namely Schweitzer and Meijer. Aslan is much more of a writer than a historian or scholar (his current professorship is in Creative Writing, not any type of history or religious studies, for instance), and he doesn’t put forward any new ideas. In fact, he rather bizarrely treats many events in the Gospels as historically reliable in order to complete his narrative, even though that’s far from the modern consensus (see critical review of Zealot’s scholarship here). All in all though, Zealot is a fun read – he does a good job of summarizing the historical events leading up to the time of Jesus, including the complexity of Jewish culture, and has a very interesting section on the theological divisions between Paul and James, and why Paul’s view ultimately won out (which differs greatly from that of the historical Jesus…at least as best as we can tell, which we can’t very well).

But I won’t be defending Aslan anymore. Reacting to a controversial tweet from Richard Dawkins the other week (see post here), Aslan goes on to call him a “fool” on twitter and then a “buffoon” in a recent interview . This baffles me, particularly when one compares the professional accomplishments of one to the other (go ahead, just google it). Even Dawkins’ critics, and my goodness he has many, aren’t so silly as to say he’s not an intelligent person. If there’s anything Dawkins is not, it’s a fool. But I suppose when you’re just a lowly creative writing professor enjoying his first bestseller, there’s no better way to get attention than to attack the man just voted the world’s top thinker.

As Washington Post columnist Manuel Roig-Franzia notes in this fairly critical piece on Aslan, he’s a bit over-eager to be taken seriously as a scholar, often exaggerating his credentials (see Fox News article above, and note his slightly pompous self-assertion that he’s “actually quite a prominent Muslim thinker in the United States”) and academic expertise.

Hm, I’ve never seen Dawkins exaggerate his credentials. I wonder if it’s because he doesn’t need to?