William Lane Craig at Manchester
  • Geoff October 2011
    Last night, I attended the debate between William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins, the Oxford chemist on "Does God exist?"

    What is below is on the basis of what I heard last night and not anything else that Craig or Atkins may have said elsewhere. I’ve added comments on occasions that occurred to me at the time. ‘Silence’ is not meant to indicate tacit agreement or disagreement.

    Craig’s Initial Arguments
    There are good reasons for theism and there are no good reasons for atheism. He expected Atkins to answer the 2nd question, (which he didn't actually do so, which he probably wouldn't have been able to do so in the time available and doesn't worry me.)

    Craig's argument for theism were
    his version of the cosmological argument. My only comment here was that Craig seemed to think that he had to demolish the idea that the universe could have had infinite time, which he did through his specific take on the maths of infinity. From my limited understanding of cosmology, it would seem that no-one these days would argue scientifically for an infinite universe as Hoyle did. (There was no mention of the idea of cyclic universes by either Craig or Atkins. This seems to be Penrose’s current option.)

    Craig also made the point that multiverses needed a beginning and also that a vacuum state is not nothing.

    WLC for me slipped to easily from showing that universe had a cause and that this cause was a transcendent God. (That may be as much my slowness in thinking rather than the poverty of his argument.)

    Moral argument as usually expressed.

    resurrection of Jesus
    Craig argued that 3 facts needed explaining:
    a) empty tomb (he said most Biblical scholars would accept this.) b) post-mortem-appearances
    c) origin of disciples belief in resurrection as no 1st century Jew would have connected Messiahship & resurrection together.

    Atkin’s initial arguments
    Atkins gave the impression that he needed to fight on two fronts a) theism b) philosophy

    He was as much anti-philosophy as anti-theism, even though the two don’t have to go together.

    He could not prove that God doesn’t exist but he can show evidence that God is not a necessary explanation for the universe. To say ‘God did it’ was lazy. Also he said that ‘belief’ has been used as crowd control.

    (Listening to Craig on the night, it would be easy to get the impression that no one who was a theist would ever look to science in order to find knowledge. To me, the history of science and contemporary experience would say otherwise and also that theist on the whole would be happy to accept the findings of science from atheists. It is the metaphysical baggage that atheists bring that causes theists a problem, but Atkins gives the impression that science is free of metaphysical baggage.)

    Atkins went onto say that science would, if cannot do so, would be eventually be able to explain everything, but we might need new findings that could suggest new models before that could happen.

    Peter Atkins had 6 arguments against the existence of God

    At the moment science doesn’t have a clue but it could through observation not philosophy.

    There are 2 ideas to consider

    universe A giving rise to daughter universes B, C, D etc. This could be because of quantum fluctuations. He did think that this was necessary relevant to ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ because we are dealing with the origin of 2ndary universes.
    The coming into existence of an initial universe.
    He said this is contingent but it could still be an uncaused event. He argued that we shouldn’t use our current ‘laws of nature’ because they may not apply to the early universe (presumably before that 10 to the power -43 secs or there abouts that we do know of.)

    He asked why did God make the universe - because he was bored, he wanted someone to acclaim him etc.?

    Science can explain universe without ascribing a purpose to it. (I agree but ascribing a purpose or not to an object, process to me seems a metaphysical decision. Also it may be that we don’t see the purpose unitl the process is completed. I am not saying that is what God has done but just trying to suggest that PA’s argument is not necessarily as watertight as it seems.

    These involve a suspension of law and have never been observed. (Obviously following Hume.)

    He thought more cogent explanations of resurrection could be a coma or a coverup. (I liked his term Golgathagate.)

    He also said the Gospels were unreliable and written long after the events. (Later on in the evening, he did suggest a time of 60 years later, which to me still seems to be in the memory span of witnesses.)

    Why does God allow evil or uses a process of evolution that uses natural selection

    Consequence of evolution and adaptation for survival. Also involved the fact that humans had the emerging ability of being able to reflect on life.

    Belief in God is a comfort blanket and form of control. (I agree that religion has been used for both, but does it apply to all believers. For some believers, belief brings danger (and I don’t mean going out and becoming a suicide bomber.)

    Points brought up during the rebuttals.

    WLC said that PA had admitted that he cannot prove the existence of God, therefore he is an agnostic rather than an atheist.

    WLC repeatedly said that he was using evidence to establish his cosmological argument whereas had none for his ideas. PA didn’t at one point say he was exercising faith.

    WLC saw no inconsistency between God existing and evil existing . God could have moral sufficient reasons for allowing evil. (He did not attempt to suggest what these reasons could be.

    PA said theology invented to make philosophy presentable, but both were into obfuscation.

    PA said to suggest that atheist were not moral was disgusting. (WLC made it clear that he had not made that claim but only that atheism couldn’t provide a basis for immorality. One could still act morally even if one doesn’t have a good reason as to why. (I have been at another conference 6th months ago had said he could really give an answer to the question as to why we should act morally. I think it would be difficult for any one to make a case that SInger does not act morally even if one doesn’t always agree with some of his actions.)

    WLC argued that Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed. Only reason that he gave was that Hume had misunderstood the probabilistic calculus. WLC implied that in an earlier debate with Professor Peter Millican, Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford University, Millican had agreed with him.

    As to resurrection, PA likened the appearance accounts to those people who had seen Elvis and that more had claimed to see jesus than Elvis. WLC replied that there was still the problem of the empty tomb, even if the disciples were hallucinating.

    PA said that religion caused people to do evil things and cited some recent examples of believers who had given up medication following their pastor’s advice. He was challenged as to whether this indicated that he believed in objective moral values.

    There was also some technical discussion about what ‘nothing’ meant. At one point PA seemed to indicate that if you do the sums, there is no energy in the universe.

    Some initial conclusions
    I went expecting less of WLC and more of PA than actually happened.

    As already mentioned, PA seemed to think that he had to wage both against theology and philosophy, and that science based on observation would ultimately bring about explanation. He was also very negative about anyone who was not a scientist and he gave the impression that anyone with an interest in theology as way of finding truth would automatically reject scientific answers.

    WLC didn’t make any statements that would upset any moral sensitivities and tried to let the evidence and the logic do the talking, though I don’t think he always succeeded.

    I bought books both by WLC and PA so as to get a clearer picture of their views. I hope that is something on this forum that we always prepared to do ie get the original thinking rather than possible biased interpretations.

  • stevencarrwork October 2011
    Is this the same William Lane Craig who claims children should be killed for their own good, and that only Christianity has objective morality?


    ' 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. '

    So much for Christian claims that they can tell the rest of us what objective morality is.

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith October 2011
    Is this the same Steven Carr who posted something almost identical to the Unbelievable forum?


    Steven - what did you think of Geoff's summary? Did you read it?
  • stevencarrwork October 2011
    Another comment by Anthony Smith which is of no use to anybody.

    Unless you are complaining that somebody is publicising Christian beliefs...

    If leading Christian apologists are going around claiming children are better off dead, why not make sure their arguments are brought to a wide range of people?

    It is what Craig would want.
  • stevencarrwork October 2011
    I read Geoff's summary. I am sure he summarised the event very well and accurately.

    Somehow, he left out Craig's views on killing children. Mere oversight on his part.

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith October 2011
    Or maybe it didn't come up in the debate?
  • SimonSimon October 2011

    Can I just warn you about cross-posting the same thing on multiple threads. If you want to continue the "baby killers" subject do so on the thread that we are already using to discuss this: William Lane Craig on Hawking's "The Grand Design".

    Secondly be careful about ad hominem attacks. This is a new forum created to discuss things openly and honestly, not just to air opinions that we have no intention of changing.

  • SimonSimon October 2011
    - back to the subject of Geoffs posts -

    WLC is well known for his five point defence of Christianity broadly along the lines of:

    1) What was the first cause?
    2) Fine tuning
    3) Moral code
    4) Historicity of Jesus
    5) The relationship of Christians with God

    Indeed from Geoff's summary above all five points seem to occur.

    My problem is that I think 1 & 2 are essentially the same thing, 3 is important but not for the reason that WLC thinks it is (WLC is a deontologist and I have major issues with deontological approaches), 4 is unprovable and 5 can always be brushed aside as anecdotal (although this does not entirely sink the argument).
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith October 2011
    When I've heard Peter Atkins on this kind of topic, I've never been particularly impressed. I just can't understand how he can claim that science will "eventually be able to explain everything" (quoting from Geoff's summary). With one breath he claims that philosophy is a waste of time, and then with the next breath he makes these bold philosophical claims about the nature of science!
  • SimonSimon October 2011
    Thanks Anthony - now you have forced me to cross-post a couple paragraphs that I have just put in another thread about philosophy:

    Science relies on looking at evidence, coming to a conclusion, and then moving on to the next thing. The arts, however, are very different. Progress is made from experiencing and wrestling with texts, music, sculptures, pictures etc. Progress is not made by coming to a conclusion that everyone can agree on, but rather in understanding something about the human experience and how that something can legitimately be expressed quite differently in different people. The big mistake of modernity was to think that the scientific method was the only way for legitimately obtaining knowledge.
    ----8<---<br />
    Atkins is a dinosaur stuck in the past!
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith October 2011
    In a break from the WLC vs. ... pattern, you can watch two of his recent opponents debating with each other here:

    Peter Atkins & Stephen Law @ Oxford Think Week

    Their discussion is on the limits of science. I've just started watching, but I have a feeling I'll agree with Stephen Law more than I agree with Peter Atkins.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith October 2011
    Thanks Simon - I was drafting mine before your post appeared, so we're both cross-posting in different ways!

    (Nice - if you link to a Youtube video it appears embedded!)
  • Geoff October 2011
    My opening comment on the debate was that I was reporting on what I heard Craig & Atkins say at the meeting not anything else they may have said elsewhere.

    You have suggested, I suspect sarcastically, that it was an oversight on my part on not saying anything about Craig killing babies.

    It was no oversight because I did not hear him say anything about killing babies on that evening.

    If you were there and no that I am wrong can you please say so and gives us your summary of the event of both speakers? If you were not there can you be more constructive in your comments sand not attribute claims to people that they have not made.

    As a matter of inference, I believe you have made an error about what you have said. Your comment is not very reliable and yet you probably think overall that people should take note of your views even though you are fallible like the rest of us, including Craig. Or could it be that though you do occasionally make wrong statements there is still much in what you say that could be of interest to others and informative. Likewise, it possible that Craig is wrong in some areas but may have things to say of value elsewhere.

  • stevencarrwork October 2011
    Simon appears to think that quoting the word of William Lane Craig about killing children is an 'ad hominem' attack.

    No, quoting what somebody says is actually saving Craig a lot of money he would otherwise have had to spend publicising his views about killing children for their own good.

    Craig talks about objective morality as evidence for Yahweh yet he writes articles claiming that murder is morally obigatory and not even murder if his god commands it.

    Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.

    The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

    On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.
  • stevencarrwork October 2011
    5) The relationship of Christians with God
    ... and 5 can always be brushed aside as anecdotal (although this does not entirely sink the argument).

    Indeed, Craig's personal testimony is how he came to know god by noticing that there were a lot of stars in the sky !

    Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”

    That moment changed my whole life.

    The banality of feeling better after a good cry and seeing a lot of stars in the sky contrasts vividly with the exaggerated hyperbole of claiming that this was an experience of the infinite creator of the universe - (the one who ordered people not to boil a kid in its mother's milk, not the one who said drinking alcohol was haram)
  • SimonSimon October 2011
    Excellent - we now have a topic to this thread - to what extent can "personal experience" provide evidence for God?

    This is a fascinating question because in one respect pretty much every conscious experience can be reduced to neuronal firings (I reveal my philosophical hand here!). However it is a fallacy to claim that reducing the mechanism of a phenomena to simpler phenomena is the same as explaining why the phenomena occurred. Yes love can be explained using neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology, but the value of love to the human is not to be found in its components.

    There was an entertaining skit on one of the Radio 4 comedy shows the other day when one of the comedians said that Richard Dawkins was the last person he ever wanted to be stuck on a desert island with. He said imagine in your despair you looked at a beautiful sunset and felt a moment of hope, at which point Richard Dawkins would wander over and say - you do realise that it is nothing but scattered light! Similarly if you sunk to your knees in despair and started praying for rescue Dawkins would wander over and say - you do know God doesn't exist and prayer doesn't work!! Not a helpful person to have around in a time of need!

    So yes personal experience is not the most reliable evidence around, however it is the lens through which we experience life. Although it is right to be wary about people trying to claim too much based on an epiphany, trying to understand the context (and rarity) of a reported experience can actually provide useful information about all sorts of things.