William Lane Craig vs. Mike Begon debate review

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 27, 2009 in Debates,Reviews

begon-craig

Mike Begon, professor of ecology at the University of Liverpool, debated William Lane Craig in 2007 (see the dvd).

Mike starts out bizarrely, first by defining God as a being that has used “special powers” (but why not choose traditional definitions instead?), second by differentiating mere assertions from incontrovertible axioms (during which time he says that a particular assertion is “fallacious,” but only arguments can be fallacious), and third with an unnecessary discussion of what it means to refute an hypothesis with evidence. During this last bit, Begon shows that he is an experienced teacher, but certainly not a debater.

Craig gives his usual 5 arguments: the Kalam cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, the Jesus resurrection argument, and the holy spirit revelation argument.

Interestingly, Mike’s response to the Kalam is to (for the sake of argument) accept that the universe had a cause, and that the cause of the universe must not itself need a cause. But, he says, the point that God has no beginning or end is a mere assertion, and there’s no evidence for it, so that’s not convincing. “God is the naming of an assertion,” he says.

And the teleological argument has the same problem. It assumes that God has no beginning; that he is a Designer not in need of a designer himself. But we have no evidence of that; it is a mere assertion.

But, Craig protests, he did give reasons to think that God is timeless and undesigned: namely, he gave the cosmological and teleological arguments in support of those assertions. If Mike accepts the premises, how can he deny the conclusions?

Craig is quite right in saying that Mike’s strategies are philosophically naive. For example:

  • Mike said that Craig’s premises were mere assertions, but Craig gave reasons for believing each of them, and Mike did not refute these reasons.
  • Mike said Craig’s assertions were not testable, but Craig’s premises are testable.
  • Mike seemed to say that to justifiably believe something we must have evidence for it, but gave no evidence for that principle, so his “simple” evidentialism is self-refuting. Mike failed to propose a more defensible epistemology.
  • Mike said that atheistic massacres resulted from beliefs not based on evidence, but this is difficult to defend, especially since Marxists are typically evidentialists.

Since Craig says the exact same things in every one of his debates, it’s disappointing that atheists are so poor at squarely confronting his points. Resources for debating Craig are easily available, and yet atheists continually fail to use them.

In short, then: Craig made bad arguments, but Begon failed to show why they are bad. Begon made bad arguments, and Craig succeeded in showing why they are bad. Hence, Craig won.

…which is why I’d like to see one of these people debate Craig.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Dace July 27, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Sounds like a weird debate. Still, I’m a bit surprised that you side with Craig in taking the cosmological and teleological arguments as evidence for the nature of God – either these arguments show the existence of a God whose nature (i.e defintion) has been accepted, or they show the nature of a god whose existence has been accepted. They can’t do the work of both defining God and showing he exists.
(In actual fact, they do neither – since neither argument actually mentions ‘God’ as Craig presents them).

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lukeprog July 27, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Dace,

Craig’s arguments do not define God’s nature in addition to showing that he exists. Instead, they (purportedly) show that something with a certain (short) list of qualities exist (but, enough qualities that it is worth calling that thing ‘God’).

I do not think these arguments succeed, but Begon’s approach failed to show WHY they fail, and that is why Craig won. Craig showed what is wrong with Begon’s arguments, but Begon did not show what is wrong with Craig’s arguments.

BTW, I think there are massive problems with any argument that purports to demonstrate both the existence of and qualities of an entirely new kind of entity, though it is on principle possible, I think. But I will write more about this in the future. Dawes has great coverage of this topic in Theism and Explanation.

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eheffa July 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I think you should debate him Luke.
He does  just seem recycle the same old arguments every time he debates.
If you speak as you write,  you should be able to take his predictable but specious arguments to pieces.
-evan

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Dace July 27, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Sure, I don’t think that Begon’s arguments are any good. But I don’t think that Craig’s response to Begon’s point was sound either. What he should’ve said is that ‘timeless’ and ‘undesigned’ were part of the definition of ‘God’ as he was using the word. A bad point followed by a bad rebuttal – I don’t think either of the debaters deserve credit.
I look forward to your post on Dawes – I really enjoyed the interview. :)

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Eric July 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Lukeprog, you characterized Craig’s arguments as ‘bad’ arguments. I would be interested in hearing what criteria you think an argument must meet if it is to be characterized as a good argument.

Note, good arguments need not be persuasive. For example, David Lewis undeniably presented a number of very good arguments for modal realism, yet few philosophers are modal realists.

 Also, good arguments need not be rationally coercive (so that one can only deny their conclusions on pain of irrationality). There are plenty of good arguments for any number of mutually exclusive ethical theories, but this could not be the case if good arguments are rationally coercive.

Finally, good arguments need not *establish* the truth of a conclusion. In other words, it is possible for an argument to be good even if it’s not dispositive. (For example, perhaps it needs to be supplemented with other arguments.)

Now, good arguments do have to be logically valid. Craig’s arguments all pass this test with ease.

Also, good arguments minimally require plausible premises. Again, the premises of Craig’s arguments are plausible (and are certainly more plausible than their negations).

Finally, good arguments must use their terms both clearly and consistently. Again, it seems to me that Craig’s arguments (and here I’m referring to his arguments in their scholarly expositions, not in his popular debates) pass this test as well.

So, Craig’s arguments may not be persuade everyone, they may not be rationally coercive, and they may not establish the truth of their conclusions once and for all, but it does seem to me as if they’re good arguments. Even Daniel Dennett recently remarked that he could find nothing wrong with Craig’s arguments as he has developed them, and that his only problem with them is that they (more specifically, their premises) rely too much on our intuitions concerning what is and isn’t plausible. However, countless philosophers have pointed out that we cannot do philosophy — or any other intellectual activity for that matter — without relying on our intuitions of plausibility. Hence, it seems that Dennett’s one clearly articulated criticism of Craig’s arguments is self defeating. However, that aside, even Dennett granted that Craig’s arguments are valid, clear and make use of plausible premises; he simply doesn’t think that plausibility is a strong enough standard.

So, what do you think distinguishes a good argument from a bad argument, and why exactly are Craig’s arguments bad arguments? Finally, can you establish criteria that will not rule out the vast majority of (or nearly all) philosophic arguments as bad arguments?  

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lukeprog July 27, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Eric,

I guess I would prefer to say that Craig’s arguments, though deductively valid, always have one or more premises that are quite weak. That is what I meant by the “bad”, though I’m sure I’ve (confusingly) called arguments “bad” in other ways, too.

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Steven Carr July 28, 2009 at 3:13 am

I wonder why Craig chooses to debate Professors of Ecology.

And Craig refuses to debate topics vital to his particular Christian beliefs, such as the existence of Hell, the general reliability of the Gospels, evolution , Biblical inerrancy etc etc

For most of the content of Christianity, Craig puts up the ‘no contest’ sign and refuses to enter the ring.

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cartesian July 28, 2009 at 7:13 am

Steven Carr: And Craig refuses to debate topics vital to his particular Christian beliefs, such as the existence of Hell, the general reliability of the Gospels, evolution , Biblical inerrancy etc etc

Contrary to what you say here, Craig has debated whether a loving God could send people to hell, with Ray Bradley:
http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-bradley0.html
 
Craig has often debated the reliability of the Gospels, specifically with respect to the resurrection, but the more general question of the Gospels’ reliability often arises. I’m thinking especially of the Craig-Avalos debate.
 
I don’t know if he would debate evolution, since I think he’s a theistic evolutionist. So I don’t think there’s any refusing going on here, as you claim, rather there’s just nothing to debate.
 
I don’t know if his inerrancy would make for an interesting debate, since he only thinks the original autographs were inerrant (that’s the traditional inerrantist position). Nor is inerrancy essential to Christianity (or even “vital” as you say); most Christians aren’t inerrantists. I think his time is better spent debating the big questions: Does God exist? Did Jesus rise from the dead? etc.

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Steven Carr July 28, 2009 at 7:34 am

Craig is at Talbot School of Theology. It says its faculty abide to the following statment ‘”The Bible, consisting of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, a supernaturally given revelation from God Himself, concerning Himself, His being, nature, character, will and purposes; and concerning man, his nature, need and duty and destiny. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.”
 
This is what Craig signed up to and what he will not defend in a debate.
 
The statement continues ‘Therefore, creation models which seek to harmonize science and the Bible should maintain at least the following: (a) God providentially directs His creation, (b) He specially intervened in at least the above-mentioned points in the creation process, and (c) God specially created Adam and Eve (Adam’s body from non-living material, and his spiritual nature immediately from God). Inadequate origin models hold that (a) God never directly intervened in creating nature and/or (b) humans share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms.’
 
This is what Craig signed up to. He is an honest man. He would resign from Talbot School if he disbelieved the doctrinal statement of the school.

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Steven Carr July 28, 2009 at 7:39 am

Oh, and Craig , in his debate on Hell, gave not one piece of evidence that Hell exists, other than that it says there is Hell in the Bible.
 
It was another no-contest surrender by Craig….

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Jeremy Killian July 28, 2009 at 10:07 am

@lukeprog,
Just curious–why do refer to Begon as Mike, and Craig as Craig? Wondered if this was intentional.

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cartesian July 28, 2009 at 10:26 am

 

Steven,
>>”The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.”>>
 
I’m familiar with Talbot’s doctrinal statement. What you’re assuming here is that “The Scriptures” refers to the book in the pews of churches called “The Bible.” What a sophisticated inerrantist will admit is that errors may have creeped in during transcription. The inerrantist will insist only that God superintended the authorship of the original autographs. The inerrantist will be quick to add that we have very many very early manuscripts, and good reason to believe that the book in the pews of churches is a very accurate representation of the original autographs, which gets even more accurate as we discover more and earlier manuscripts.
 
>>This is what Craig signed up to and what he will not defend in a debate.>>
 
As I said, I think Craig is more interested in spending his time debating the big questions. Life is short, time is limited, and one must prioritize. Which to debate? The existence of God, or inerrancy? I think the former is a higher priority for Craig than the latter. That’s no defect in his character.
 
>>(a) God providentially directs His creation, (b) He specially intervened in at least the above-mentioned points in the creation process, and (c) God specially created Adam and Eve (Adam’s body from non-living material, and his spiritual nature immediately from God).>>
 
This, I take it, is compatible with evolution. Do you think it isn’t? Why? Perhaps you have misgivings about the common ancestry thesis. I think that (a)-(c) above are all consistent with the common ancestry thesis, or at the very least whatever scientific evidence we actually have in favor of the common ancestry thesis.

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cartesian July 28, 2009 at 10:30 am

Steven Carr: Oh, and Craig , in his debate on Hell, gave not one piece of evidence that Hell exists, other than that it says there is Hell in the Bible. It was another no-contest surrender by Craig….

That sounds like evidence to me. You may not think it’s good evidence, but it surely counts as evidence. We accept testimony as evidence all the time, and we think people are rational to accept that things are as they’re testified to be. Why invoke a double standard when it comes to the Bible?
 
Also, I’m not sure what other evidence you’d expect in a debate over the existence of Hell. Pictures of Hell from the Hubble? Or maybe the faint sounds of screams from an oil well? It’s no part of orthodox Christian doctrine to insist that Hell is presently spatially related to us in such a way that this sort of evidence would be available. The reality of Hell is a truth that Christians take to have been revealed by God, not the sort of truth we could have worked out on our own. As such, I don’t think you should expect any further proof than an appeal to that revelation. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you can undercut or rebut the supposed revelation.

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Lorkas July 28, 2009 at 11:22 am

cartesian: That sounds like evidence to me. You may not think it’s good evidence, but it surely counts as evidence.

It seems to me that all he implied was that it was bad evidence. In fact, the construction “Person A gave no evidence of X other than Y,” implies that the speaker does accept that Y is evidence for X. It wouldn’t make very much sense for a person to say “… other than …” if the speaker didn’t think that Y fit into the “evidence for X” category.
 
Perhaps you didn’t like the tone, which suggested that “it says so in the Bible” is insufficient reason to form a belief? That’s understandable, but you should know to expect that by now. Many of the commenters here take “it says so in the Bible” with the same grain of salt that we (and presumably you) take “it says so in the Qur’an” as evidence for an assertion.

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Steven Carr July 28, 2009 at 11:45 am

The Bible is no more evidence of Hell than it is evidence of a talking donkey.
People just made up Hell. That is not ‘testimony’. Testimony is when you testify to something you have seen or heard or touched or smelt. Testimony is not making things up and declaring that they exist.

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cartesian July 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Steven Carr: People just made up Hell. That is not ‘testimony’. Testimony is when you testify to something you have seen or heard or touched or smelt. Testimony is not making things up and declaring that they exist.

Well, the story is either that the authors of the Bible were testifying about what they had heard from God, or that, in the Bible, God himself is testifying about something he knows a bit about. Either way, if the story is true, it does count as testimony, even on your unconventional definition of “testimony.”
 
You think the story is false, and therefore you don’t think appeals to the Bible are appeals to testimony (or “reliable testimony,” as I would say). You think people just made up the Bible. I suppose then that one would first have to debate that issue with you before debating the existence of Hell. I just want to make it clear that by dismissing the evidence that Craig presented in favor of the existence of Hell, you’re presupposing a very contentious claim. Someone who doesn’t already agree with you about the reliability of the Bible won’t be nearly as quick to dismiss Craig’s evidence. In that sense, your response is question-begging.
 
(And no, Craig’s presenting the evidence is not question-begging, but we can go down that road if you’d like.)

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cartesian July 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Lorkas: It seems to me that all he implied was that it was bad evidence.

I never said otherwise.

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tdd July 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

People talking to spirits is supposed to be considered reliable evidence.  I suppose we have to consider this person’s testimony reliable.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32171926/
Why shouldn’t we believe that the devil told her to do it? Maybe if someone had written it down 2000 years ago, second hand, decades after the fact, we might.  Or we could just consider people who hear voices to be crazy.
<<(c) God specially created Adam and Eve (Adam’s body from non-living material, and his spiritual nature immediately from God>>
This is not compatible with evolution.
 
 

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lukeprog July 28, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Jeremy,

Not intentional, no.

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lukeprog July 28, 2009 at 5:40 pm

cartesian,

You think it’s a double standard to reject the notion of hell because it has no evidence for it except the testimony of ancient legends about tribal gods and magic? Why not consider it a double standard to accept the notion of hell on the mere basis of ancient legends and reject thousands of other spooky notions that are only ‘evidenced’ in the testimony of ancient stories about gods and magic?

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cartesian July 29, 2009 at 9:21 am

lukeprog: You think it’s a double standard to reject the notion of hell because it has no evidence for it except the testimony of ancient legends about tribal gods and magic?

I suggested that Steven was using a double standard, accepting many ordinary claims as testimony, but rejecting the claims made by the authors of the Bible as testimony. If I testifed to you that I was born in Southern California, most likely you’d find yourself believing that, and we think you’d be rational in doing that. Well, if the Bible testifies that X, why not accept that people are rational when they find themselves believing X?
 
It turns out that Steven doesn’t have a double standard, since he takes himself to have independent reason to think that Bible is untrustworthy.

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Steven Carr July 30, 2009 at 2:00 am

So your only evidence for Hell is that the Bible says there is Hell?
Clearly the Bible is untrustworthy as there is no evidence for Hell.
 
 
 

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cartesian July 30, 2009 at 7:07 am

Steven Carr: So your only evidence for Hell is that the Bible says there is Hell? Clearly the Bible is untrustworthy as there is no evidence for Hell.

My only evidence for Hell is the testimony of the Bible (which I take to be a revelation from God), and the testimony of centuries of Church tradition (which I take to be superintended by God).
 
My belief in Hell is not peculiar in this respect — many of my beliefs are based only on testimony. For example, my belief that Barack Obama exists is based only on testimony. My belief that Julius Caesar existed is based only on testimony. And these beliefs are, I think, above reproach. So it’s no shortcoming of a belief to be based just on testimony.
 
I didn’t quite understand that second sentence of yours. Was that meant to be an argument? It seemed like you gave me a conclusion and a premise:
 
(1) There is no evidence for Hell.
(2) Therefore, the Bible is untrustworthy.
 
Did you honestly think I would be persuaded by this argument? I think it should have been clear to you that I’d reject premise (1). I think there is evidence for Hell. Pretty good evidence, actually. The quality and quantity of the testimony in favor of Hell are both quite high, I think.

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drj July 30, 2009 at 8:15 am

At what point, does the content of the testimony cause it to be suspect, or subject to doubt?
 
The events in the Bible, the existence of Hell, are certainly not the same level of mundane claims, like the existence of President Obama.
 
 

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cartesian July 30, 2009 at 9:27 am

drj: At what point, does the content of the testimony cause it to be suspect, or subject to doubt?

I guess when the content of the testimony conflicts with some beliefs that you’re really confident of. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” as they say. So the claims have to be “extraordinary,” i.e. not really fit in with what you already believe.

The events in the Bible, the existence of Hell, are certainly not the same level of mundane claims, like the existence of President Obama.

First, how dare you say that His Majesty’s existence is mundane. Mundane people don’t get on the cover of Time 12 times in 12 months.

Second, these events in the Bible may count as extraordinary to you, given your set of beliefs. But they may not count as extraordinary to other people with different sets of beliefs. People like me, for example.

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Reginald Selkirk July 31, 2009 at 1:21 pm

cartesian: Second, these events in the Bible may count as extraordinary to you, given your set of beliefs. But they may not count as extraordinary to other people with different sets of beliefs.

Right, like people who believe that insects have four legs, and that you can breed animals with stripes by putting sticks near their watering trough. To such people, the events in the Bible may not be extraordinary.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 8:02 am

cartesian: and the testimony of centuries of Church tradition (which I take to be superintended by God).

Which church? Or does God superintend all Christian churches, or even all churches, Christian or not? Was God superintending during the crusades, the inquisition, the Galileo episode, the clergy sex scandals? In what ways does the history of the Church differ from human activity without divine superintendency?
 

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manicstreetpreacher March 14, 2010 at 1:08 am

This was the first time I had the “pleasure” of witnessing William Lane Craig speak in public. I wasn’t at the live event, but a friend in the philosophy department lent me the DVD. I wonder why it’s never been posted on YouTube or the Pirate Bay?

Begon didn’t know enough to deal properly with Craig. He played a negative campaign and went for the draw as opposed to the win. He didn’t advance any positive rebuttal of Craig’s “arguments”, but tried to show that they were inadequate “assertions”. Which they are of course, but you have to throw something more at Craig for him to stop saying that his wonderful arguments have not been irrefuted. Begon’s probably a good teacher, but is not a debater.

Craig didn’t endear himself to me though. In support of his moral argument, he said that “an atheist cannot say that torturing babies for fun is wrong”. Disgusting. I’m ashamed to have links with Liverpool University now that those words have been uttered within its walls.

I’ve never heard Craig say it before or since. He debated Lewis Wolpert in London on the same tour and didn’t say it. Was it because he knew that this was a relatively low profile event and thought he could get away with his remarks not being widely publicised? Wouldn’t surprise me.

MSP

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