On Cameron Bertuzzi’s YouTube channel, Capturing Christianity, William Lane Craig appears on a recent video entitled “Dr. Craig Rebuts the Best Atheist Arguments”, to which I’ve linked above. I am convinced that Craig is a dishonest apologist who knowingly presents false arguments and empty rhetorical tricks, not to actually convert anybody, but to play to his own audience of the credulous. In response I made a video to analyze and refute of all his rebuttals. Due to the length of that video, I’m posting a text version of that video here.
The first of the fourteen responses concerns Hitchens’s comment regarding the occurrence of miracles. Hitchens argues that the breaking of all the laws of the physical universe is far less likely than a natural explanation.
Apologetics, especially since Plantinga, has been forced to concede quite a bit. In his development of reformed epistemology, Plantinga retreats from a claim of proof of god to a plea to accept that under certain assumptions it is at least reasonable to believe in a god. A sort of universal “if” preceding the apologists’ otherwise unjustifiable premises. But to make even that work, he had to insist that we loosen the requirements for properly basic assumptions to include testimony and belief. Here we see Craig put that to use while trying to conceal the concessions. He claims that IF we posit a god who created the rules of the universe, this god could also suspend those rules and perform a miracle, providing a logically valid explanation. The problem, which we will see Craig try to evade through rhetorical trickery in the next cut, is that there is no compelling reason to assume a god. He implies that the Christian narrative is so unique that it does compel us to make that assumption, but again we are not compelled to accept that claim either. Many other religions also make that same claim with equal justification, or lack thereof.
He starts by dismissing Hume as ignorant of the modern probability calculus and claims entirely without explanation how that mathematical theory would improve the likelihood of miracles. It’s simply a throwaway designed the impress the naïve. The calculus couldn’t really be applied to the truth of a miracle, but if one were to make the attempt they wouldn’t get very far. The calculus assigns a value of 1 or 0 to every statement under a set of rules. For example, if a statement is a tautology its probability is 1. If the statement is a self-contradiction its value is 0. Statements such as Jesus was a man who rose from the dead is a self-contradiction because men cannot rise from the dead, and would be assigned a value of 0.
For the obvious reason, Craig doesn’t actually apply the probability calculus, but instead gives a misleading interpretation. His claim that Hume erred in calculating probability according to the laws of nature gives the false impression that modern probability theory would allow statements with a value of 0 or statements with no determinable probability to tip the scale in favor of miracles, but that isn’t how probability works. He makes a similar error other places in his attempt to apply Bayesian analysis to prove that intelligent design is more probable than evolution, even though it is impossible to make such an analysis through the Bayesian methodology. Bayesian analysis requires that the all factors come from the same and relevant data set operating under the same rules. The problem is that the only data set we have and the only rules we know appear after the beginning of the universe, but to understand the likelihood of the creation of our particular laws of nature we would need to observe the data set of the pre-universe state of affairs from which our laws developed to understand anything about that probability. Of course, that’s impossible, so his focus is solely on post big bang occurrences which tell us nothing at all about the likelihood of the laws which enabled these occurrences.
In short, he’s obfuscating, and he knows it. Let’s look at his exact words a bit more carefully. Craig states:
“Demonstrably mathematically fallacious. What he fails to consider is the likelihood of the evidence occurring on the hypothesis of the miracle compared with the likelihood of the evidence occurring on the likelihood of hypothesis of the miracle not occurring.”
An utterly meaningless statement. First, the question isn’t one of the likelihood of the evidence: the evidence either is apparent and valid, or it isn’t and is invalid 1 or 0. The likelihood centers on the hypothesis. As I said, he knows this is mumbo jumbo, so he pivots away in hopes nobody has noticed and reverts back to what Plantinga had already conceded with his universal if: “The likelihood of the laws of physics alone can’t be shown to be improbable if there is a god.”
But that simply returns us to the original weakness in all this: There is nothing compelling in the premise there is a god. His argument now is a mere baseless claim that miracles occur because there is a god. No more and no less, despite his dishonest attempt to use high-sounding language to say nothing at all. Plantinga conceded the that the Kalam Ontological argument was fallacious but would be reasonable if we simply inserted the word “if” before the assumptions. Plantinga didn’t make that concession just for the fun of it, but because the rules of foundationalist epistemology made it impossible to successfully argue for the existence of god without the if. Yet, here, Craig attempts to regain ground already conceded to resurrect the pre-Plantinga insistence on the truth of the various false proofs of god and dropping the if as he concludes:
“Hume would Need to include on the background information not just the laws of nature, but also the existence of god as established by the Cosmological, teleological, moral arguments and so forth.”
Rather than establishing anything, Every one of those alleged proofs was refuted long ago as containing obviously false or questionable premises and fallacies such as special pleading and category errors. Nobody outside the hermetic cadre of apologists still takes those arguments seriously because they establish nothing at all.
No, William, the principle isn’t exactly the same, and as somebody with a Ph.D. in philosophy you certainly know you just committed the fallacy of equivocation. The example that Ricky Gervais gave stems directly and solely from Christianity. Stalinist horrors came directly and solely from the brutality of totalitarianism and communal economics, not atheism. Two different and unrelated categories. There are Christian Marxists but no Christian Atheists. We’ll count this as just one more example of Craig’s dishonesty.
Again, he repeats the same baseless claim that Christianity possesses more evidence than other religions, which simply is false. We will see him repeat this throughout as a leitmotif.
Then he pivots to an outright lie:
There are countless examples of evangelical Christians threatening their kids with hell, including for homosexuality. The most interesting aspect of this answer is that Craig and Bertuzzi feel the need to deny it.
Craig tries to imply that myth isn’t necessarily untrue but that it was only a later popular definition that gave myth that connotation. Craig’s claim is baseless and ignores the original Greek use of mythos. In ancient Greek the word was used to mean story or fiction and was contrasted to logos which referred to that which can be demonstrated. From its very conception, myth has implied fiction.
He then claims that demon possession has not been disproved, thereby evading the burden on the claimant to prove its existence and the fact that not only does no such proof exist, but scientific evidence demonstrates purely mundane causes for what were once thought to be possessions.
Again, Craig tries to evade criticism he can’t counter by dismissing it as unserious. It is satiric comedy, however, which has been used for millennia for serious criticism and can’t so easily be brushed aside. George Carlin is exposing the conflict between a loving god and one who monitors your every thought and deed with the threat of eternal damnation. This is an essential feature of Christianity and it’s fun to watch Craig try to squirm his way out of it.
Craig claims the Christian concept of god is Not a man in the sky. Perhaps he’s never heard of the Trinity of Father, Son and holy ghost.
It is true that for most of the Old Testament there is no concept of being thrown into hell for violating the commandments, although according to the myth there certainly was some retribution for some of those unfortunates wandering Mt Sinai when the commandments were handed down. But eternal damnation is more of a Christian invention. Let’s look more closely at what Craig presents as the Christian concept. A loving god has thrown us into a world where we are already judged guilty at birth for breaking these commandments and sentenced to eternal damnation. However, if we are one of those born into this absurd predicament who happened to be convinced of the divinity of Jesus, we can choose a pardon. Of course, this would render god a perverse monster and the world a joyless and cruel joke. Despite Craig’s pretense of understanding superior to the crude comedian, he ends up reinforcing Carlin’s message.
Here Craig claims it is not a point of Christian theism that god created the universe just for us. Of course, the whole intelligent design movement holds that as its primary premise, otherwise what was the point of the design? And nowhere in the Bible is there even the slightest hint of other life in the universe. Just the opposite, Genesis describes the mythical creation of the entire universe with Adam and Eve as the crown of creation. This is just more dissembling on Craig’s part to distract from the absurdity of creating an unimaginably vast universe for the purpose of man’s existence in one microscopic spec. In fact, Craig argues just the opposite when he defends intelligent design.
Here we see Craig purposely strawmanning Harris’s point. Harris was obviously referring to sexual behavior between consenting adults and Craig is obviously evading the Christian condemnation of sex outside marriage, homosexuality, and certain sexual practices other than traditional intercourse. Bringing rape and other nonconsensual acts of aggression into the conversation is a red herring designed to deflect from the point he can’t counter while also facilely dismissing the claim as mere comedic timing.
But then Craig is directly confronted with this issue in the next clip. Watch for the strawmanning and equivocation.
The strawmanning starts when Craig suggests that the implication of homosexuality not being a choice does not mean we are morally free to act out. Of course, the argument was quite different: that homosexuality is morally neutral and any condemnation of it is unjust, and ALSO that Christians claim that homosexuality is a choice that can, for example, be overcome through quackery such as conversion therapy. He then presents the false equivalency between homosexuality and congenital defects that incite one to violence. The two have nothing to do with each other and Craig is simply obscuring his real belief that homosexuals are not entitled to a fulfilling sex life simply because of their inclination – and this after earlier proclaiming the central role sexuality plays in the human experience. It is a sign of great moral progress that people like Craig can no longer just come out and say this without being dismissed. He ends this point with more of the projection I mentioned at the beginning:
This is amusing when we realize Craig is a pop apologist who throughout this video displays superficiality and a lack of anything approaching a legitimated argument.
This coming from a man with pretensions to understanding physics but was shown to be an empty fool when he dared to debate Sean Carroll on cosmology. What do you think the odds are that Craig has read Einstein’s two volumes of relativity or any of the seminal papers on Quantum field theory or multi-worlds theory? As Craig goes on in his response, he ironically demonstrates the irreconcilability between Christian faith and science.
No, William, the context makes clear what is meant, and you are again trying to obscure a point you can’t refute. Faith here means a belief in the word of the Bible. Reason means scientific interrogation of the physical world. Either you are a dishonest hack or a dullard unable to follow the conversation.
And he has the nerve to call others superficial. Claiming that Genesis parallels modern cosmology is laughable and again reveals Craig to be a dishonest hack or a fool. Let’s consider his claim that modern physicists have determined the universe has a finite beginning. This misleads for two reasons. First, there are important Physicists such as Roger Penrose who posit we are just a small pocket of a much larger eternal universe that continuously gives birth to new universes out of itself. That is the opposite of finite. Second, even among physicists who believe that our universe had a finite beginning almost 14 billion years ago, there is a recognition that that description misses the larger question of what existed before our universe came about; that is the big bang was a change in state, not a finite beginning. Genesis describes a void before our universe came about, whereas modern physics understands that something existed before the initial inflation, but we can know nothing about its state because the very laws of physics by which we understand reality only arose post-inflation. The idea of finite/infinite is probably an illusory dichotomy anyway, as Kant pointed out in the First Antinomy, and our current universe is simply a change in state from an earlier physical state that Craig misrepresents to accord with the Biblical account. The misrepresentation is effected through Craig’s use of the words “Absolute origin of the universe”, when it is more likely it wasn’t absolute but a continuation.
Very few, if any prominent cosmologists agree that there is any valid argument for the claim that a being fine-tuned the universe for our existence. In fact, such a claim can easily be shown to be a tautology as one has to assume the universe was created just for human existence to conclude the universe is fine-tuned, or as mentioned earlier, employ an invalid use of statistics. And once again, this argument contradicts Craig’s previous statement that there is nothing in Christian ideology that assumes the idea of man as the privileged goal of creation. One universal characteristic of a fraud is the willingness to substitute contradictory claims according to situation.
I wish Craig had gone on to explain how a seeming correspondence between reason and reality points to a god, but it doesn’t matter because the very claim itself again reveals a complete ignorance of post-Kantian epistemology, evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience, all of which demonstrate the conflict between subjective reason and a world that operates outside that constraint. Epistemology since Kant has posited that reason is our innate and inherited principle according to which we make subjective sense of a chaotic external world. Evolutionary psychology traces how this facility developed as our unique adaptative advantage. Modern neurology backs this up with demonstrations of how our brain constructs its own coherent reality out of the chaos of sense data by imposing its own conditions of thought, which have evolved to work well within the very narrow band of reality we have inhabited, but break down at the macro level of relativity and micro level of quantum physics. In short, through innate reason and sensibilities of space and time we project our reason-derived subjective creation onto to the external world. Seen in the light of contemporary physics, Craig’s claim of “extraordinary applicability of mathematics” to the external world, which diminishes at the macro and micro levels of reality and disappears altogether as we approach the singularity before inflation, is false.
Craig again repeats his false claim that it is demonstrably false that faith and reason cannot be reconciled after failing to show any reconcilability at all. Then he suddenly abandons the claim that Genesis is compatible with a scientific explanation be reversing and claiming that Genesis isn’t offering a natural account of the origin of the world anyway. In other words, he simultaneously claims that Genesis is an accurate account of the origin of the world, and never mind that it isn’t because it wasn’t meant to be. Pure double talk.
Well, yes it certainly is written within the naïve and ignorant presuppositions of the people of that time, which of course is exactly what you expect from manmade myth. My guess is a real god might have been a bit more accurate. If the point were to differentiate god’s word in respect to the deities of stars and other natural objects, one might expect he would have made that point a bit more explicit and tried to differentiate it a bit more from the earlier Babylonian epic, Enumu Elish, from which it appears he did some heavy borrowing.
This argument is often used by amateur apologists who, along with Craig, have no idea what they are talking about. What they think is a subtle argument is their claim that naturalism denies the ability to know anything as true. Since the naturalist method of inquiry depends on capacities that have been selected for survival value and not for truth, it cannot know that we evolved consciousness based on adaptive advantage. Of course, that is a gross distortion of the argument and a false assumption that survival value did not include some element of truth. That the primary evolutionary impetus was survival does not mean there is no correspondence at all between our representations and reality. It would have no evolutionary benefit at all if that were the case because we would have had no ability to distinguish between predator and prey. The epistemological progress we have made is in determining the limits of knowledge, not that we cannot know anything. For example, an understanding of epistemology can tell me that I cannot know what is in a locked box, although I know that such a locked box exists. That doesn’t imply I cannot know anything at all, but rather that making metaphysical assertions about the unknowable inside of the box is a fool’s game. In addition, there is nothing in the naturalistic understanding of consciousness that precludes our further intellectual development to investigate reality within our limitations to further true knowledge in addition to survival.
Perhaps Einstein’s problem was he lacked imagination:
“Neither can I believe the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.”
Or maybe the problem is too much imagination sparked by fear that creates the delusion of an afterlife. If we refrain from imaginary comforts and concentrate on reality there is no reason at all to believe in an afterlife.
Then we all agree about tolerance. I assume that includes the tolerance of atheists and their right to not be governed by biblical precepts.
I’ve ignored Cameron’s responses to this point as irrelevant and uninteresting, but here I’ll make an exception:
No, Cameron, your ignorance is once again showing. There is no conflict between moral knowledge and atheism. The error is thinking that morality derives from Christianity. Morality has been around a lot longer and more broadly than Christianity, and as we have progressed, we have moved steadily away from the primitive and brutal morality of the Bible.
And Craig shares Cameron’s ignorance. We not only have political rights, we have freedom of conscience, which means we are not bound to Christian morality, or any other dogma. We have a right to believe as we choose, and that includes morality that contradicts Christianity. Again, Craig falsely presupposes that Christianity is the source of all morality, and any other source is invalid. What happened to that tolerance he mentioned before?
Whenever Craig accuses others of being confused this is a signal he is about to confuse the issue in order to obfuscate. Tyson clearly distinguished the star as being in Revelations, and not in Genesis in making the point that the Biblical descriptions of the cosmos share a common ignorance typical of the people at that time.
Here we have a repeat on the B theme of Genesis that its not a natural description, but a theological message that physical objects are not deities. Again, it’s too bad there is nothing in the Creation myth to back that up and that the Genesis myth does in fact purport to explain the creation of the universe. But as we’ll see, Craig can’t leave it at that, and we have a reprise of the A theme that Genesis indeed does portray an accurate development of the cosmos.
And here we have man as the crown of creation again, which he tried to avoid in the argument of man’s insignificance in the vast universe. This guy just can’t keep his story straight. More to the point, his claim that Genesis gives us a coherent and logical order of creation is laughable.
God starts by creating heaven and earth, and then creats light and separated it into day and night. Craig would have us believe that it was possible to create the light of the universe before stars formed and that day and night existed before earth’s orbit and spin. Next god created a firmament, which was like a dome that divided the waters of earth from heaven and also somehow gets confused with separating land from water. Of course, no such firmament actually exists.
Craig would also believe that it is chronologically logical that god now brings forth all the plants before stars even exist. That would mean we would have to believe that before stars existed and created the elements and provided heat and light, somehow water, earth and plants existed. This is what he calls chronologically logical.
And all this avoids mentioning the second creation story in Genesis which follows a different chronology. He would have been much better off sticking to his claim that Genesis is not a description of nature after all, as lame as that was.
There is really nothing funnier than the inventiveness of apologists when confronted with the contradictions of their beliefs. The convenient thing about metaphysics is that you can always amend or redefine your way around these contradictions because you are never restrained by reality, only by the limits of your imagination.
Here Craig appeals to the 16th Century Jesuit Luis de Molina, who attempted to resolve the conflict between god’s infallible foreknowledge and free will. Typical of metaphysical speculation, which survives yet today in theism, it is an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem and was a hot topic among metaphysicians in the 1500’s. It attempted to resolve this conflict by inventing what was called Middle Knowledge, which stood between god’s absolute knowledge of necessary truths and his knowledge of his own will. In this Middle Knowledge stood all possible contrafactuals concerning the decision a free will would make in any situation. God then conforms his creation by taking into account what these free wills would decide in the future. All this does, however, is bury the contradiction in the Middle Knowledge since if it is possible predict an action the action cannot be of free will. A free will could always surprise you at the last moment just like the exact position of a photon. To be 100% predictable, an action must be the result of a mechanistic causally determined chain, rendering free will impossible.
Once again, the mere superficial comedian sees more clearly than Craig.
Next, Cameron only makes things worse:
If Cameron wants to join the upper ranks of grifters he will really need to improve his game. All he attempts here is to obscure the contradiction by listing other types of prayers that aren’t affected by this contradiction. We often call this a red herring.
Notice how Craig begins with misdirection. The point Harris makes is that Religion contains irrational beliefs that would be considered insane in an individual because they contradict all known reality and are without evidence. Because that is an obvious fact that cannot be attacked head-on, Craig pivots to his belief in objective moral law in order to claim that Naturalism also fails to provide a solid objective basis for morality. Besides equivocating irrational belief with objective morality, Craig also offers a false choice between objective moral law and no basis for morality at all. As a Ph.D. in philosophy, certainly he is aware that he just committed the fallacy of bifurcation. The third choice is morality based on innate sensibility that provides no legal code but does provide emotional guidance toward the moral. Basically, Craig has conceded that a rationally-derived moral law such as Harris’s and a metaphysically derived moral law are equally ungrounded. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The third option of innate sensibility offers the advantage of grounding in something knowable – our own nature. And in the end, all understanding of morality stems from our innate nature regardless of claims otherwise.
Then he makes his case even worse:
Again, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and the entire non-Christian world can with equal justification claim that Craig believes in a god that doesn’t exist and that any moral code derived from this imaginary god is ultimately the product of men interpreting from their own innate sensibility. But here he takes his obfuscation one step further. At the heart of the Christian objective moral law as espoused by Craig and others is that God grounds objective moral law out of his own perfect nature, which is purely and essentially good. This leaves evil ungrounded, and therefore unexplained. And on this point his claim is directly contradicted by Isaiah 45:7, where Yahweh proclaims:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I Yahweh do all these things.”
Craig also has a Ph.D. in Theology and is well aware of his obfuscation here, and therefore must know his argument is simply false. But truth is not valued by the apologist.
If we are going to ground morality in a nature, it can only be our own nature, which contains both light and darkness, to stay within the oversimplified biblical terms, since it is the only nature we know actually exists. The moral is that innate sensibility that champions our inner light over the darkness.
And to top it all off, Cameron chimes in to destroy his own point:
Cameron is obviously not one of the brightest people around, and here he unwittingly destroys the point he thought to make. It is true that Religion provides countless impossible and irrational examples. It is also true that contemporary physics presents things that are counterintuitive. As Cameron points out, though, the only important deciding factor is evidence. We accept superposition, entanglement, relativity, etc., even though they directly contradict our prior rational understanding because we have solid evidence for them. There is no evidence for religious irrationality, and therefore no reason to accept it. The counterintuitive aspect of science results from the hard limitations of our faculties of understanding, which simply cannot grasp the true state of macro relativity and micro quantum activity. In the religious examples we see the opposite, the difficulty of an untrained mind to distinguish objective reality from illusion.
Craig rushes in with some more obfuscation to cover up Cameron’s mess:
Again, Craig invokes the giant “if”. But there is no evidence of his god and he repeats his fallacy of bifurcation concerning the grounding morality.
And now for the 14th and final response:
More than a little irony in that. The guy who has been morphing issues all throughout now accuses Dawkins of this as HE morphs Dawkins’ response. This is Another example of Craigs favorite rhetorical trick: under cover of accusing someone else of intellectual dishonesty he proceeds to commit that very thing. To be clear, Dawkins was pointing out that the questioner was not speaking from some privileged ground of knowledge but could equally be wrong. The result is that if we are to take her premise seriously that there is one true god on whom our salvation or damnation rests, it could just as easily be one of the gods she rejects. The point is nobody is in a position to make that determination. To evade that predicament, Craig gives a superficial denial by dismissing it as religious relativism, whatever that might mean in this case.
And that is exactly the rhetorical trick he employs. It might be argued that the risk for the atheist is much more than the theist, but of course that evades Dawkins’ point. Rather, Dawkins pointed out that the risk for the atheist is exactly the same as for the Christian in light of all the other gods.
Another of those false choices Craig is so famous for. Ignoring for the moment the impact of probability on this decision, which in favoring the atheist greatly mitigates the risk, let’s look at the mischaracterization of the rewards. For the Christian, the reward would be a promised heaven of some sort, the details of which are unknown. But if the atheist is right, his reward is nothing like what Craig tries to minimize and dismiss as the temporary enjoyment of sin. I sometimes think only a former believer can fully appreciate how much is gained by the unburdening of religion, but it is found in the overwhelming joy of freedom and the sudden profound appreciation of this strange, alluring and almost impossible life we suddenly find ourselves immersed in. When I realized Christianity was false and emancipated myself from slavery to Jesus Christ, that odd Christodoulosian delusion, several things overcame me. First was the immense relief from the self-imposed paranoia of some judgmental god listening to my every thought and knowing my every action. How perverse that sort of life was. Next came the immense relief of no longer having to lie to myself in order to maintain faith. With this came the immense joy of freedom. Freedom to enjoy my life, to deeply experience and explore what life in this world really is. With the rejection of metaphysics, including religion, I for the first time saw the vibrancy, profound musicality, and unfathomable wonder of this very physical world that I for no earned reason was so improbably given to enjoy.
That is what I win in this wager, and would not choose any other way.