How to Win Against William Lane Craig

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 28, 2009 in General Atheism,William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is a popular Christian philosopher and apologist who regularly debates atheists. Despite saying many ugly and stupid things, I think Craig almost always wins his debates with atheists.

Often, this is because his atheist opponents just aren’t very good debaters. Craig has been debating since high school, and many of his opponents don’t have any experience debating. That makes a big difference. To beat Craig in a debate, you’ve got to have some serious debate skills.

But you’ve also got to know the arguments.

Luckily, Craig gives the exact same arguments and makes the exact same points in every debate. So it’s really easy to prepare responses for everything he’s going to say. Atheists are just too lazy to do it.

Eventually, I’ll cover all of Craig’s arguments and assertions in depth (as I’m currently doing with his Kalam argument), but for now I’ll just recommend some research.

My links cover these topics much better than they have been covered by any atheist in a debate with Craig. Even just parroting the responses made by these articles would improve on all past atheist debate performances.

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{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben July 29, 2009 at 6:25 am

Haha, I agree.  It should be a lot easier than people make it out to be, but it’s all about framing and reframing the discussion as you go along better than he does on the fly.

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Kyle July 29, 2009 at 2:50 pm

I agree with you that it is rather strange how well Craig performs given the weakness of many of his arguments.
I think it is largely due to the amount of hard work that he seems to do.  I have never thought that he wass unprepared for anything, he is always ready, no matter what is thrown at him.
 
He is also prepared to engage with his opponents and discuss what they are saying. Many of the atheists that I have seen debate him do not attempt to dialogue with him. They simply want to dismiss what he says and present their own arguments. This does not go down well in front of an audience.

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Eric July 29, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I’m going to go out on a limb here and state the obvious: Craig wins because his arguments are good arguments, by which I mean they are logically valid and have premises that are much better supported than their denials. When I read most criticisms of Craig’s arguments on the internet, I almost invariably get the sense that the person who wrote it has little or no exposure to serious academic philosophy. Why? *They almost always have unreasonably high expectations with respect to what criteria an argument must meet to be judged a good argument*. For example, Craig’s Kalam argument is much stronger than the sorts of arguments most people adduce to support specific moral or political positions that they believe they have very good grounds for believing. So, let me put it to you: do any of you have an argument for a specific moral or political position that you hold that you believe is stronger (as an argument) than Craig’s Kalam argument? If so, please lay out the argument *clearly* (as Craig does) so its reasoning and premises can be evaluated. Also, do you have an argument for atheism (and yes, there are such arguments) that is stronger than Craig’s Kalam argument? (Incidentally, I’m not a big fan of the Kalam argument, but I certainly don’t think it’s as weak or bad an argument as so many on the internet suggest; I think my challenge above will bring this out.)

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lukeprog July 29, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Eric: For example, Craig’s Kalam argument is much stronger than the sorts of arguments most people adduce to support specific moral or political positions that they believe they have very good grounds for believing.

I totally, totally agree.

Unfortunately, Craig’s Kalam argument and almost any moral argument are extremely complex, and it takes a great deal of work for me to show why I don’t think the Kalam has much strength. It also takes a great deal of work to show why I think desire utilitarianism is superior to all other moral theories. I will be doing all this work eventually, but it will take a long time. Especially my defense of desire utilitarianism, as there are dozens of books and papers I want to read first.

And I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t read anything substantial in the past two months.

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Eric July 29, 2009 at 7:52 pm

“Unfortunately, Craig’s Kalam argument and almost any moral argument are extremely complex, and it takes a great deal of work for me to show why I don’t think the Kalam has much strength.”

Lukeprog, indeed, these are very complicated arguments. However, this gets at what I was referring to, since I seriously doubt that most lay-critics of the KCA have any idea how extremely complicated it is. I’m of course not referring to you here  (and, just to be clear, I wasn’t referring to your work when I discussed ‘internet criticisms’ of Craig’s arguments in my post above; I’m very impressed with the work you put into your posts, and with the fair-minded manner you present the arguments of ‘the other side’), but to those who parrot simplistic (and often misplaced) objections — objections that have been decisively dealt with sundry times —  as if they’re knock down criticisms (e.g. the supposed ‘virtual particle’ counterexample to premise one, the claim that the Kalam — even if successful — either tells us nothing about the cause of the universe or that it doesn’t get us all the way to orthodox Christianity, the ‘then what caused god? objection, the ‘talking about a cause of the universe is like asking what’s north of the north pole’ objection, and so on). 

I also of course agree that, given some serious work, one could provide good grounds for rejecting the conclusion of the KCA. My only point is that this isn’t necessarily inconsistent with saying that the KCA is a good argument. I know of no philosophical argument *that reaches a substantial conclusion about the world, god, humanity, morality etc.* that cannot similarly be rejected *on good grounds* given enough serious work. However, it doesn’t follow that there’s no such thing as a good philosophic argument. As I said, it seems to me as if the bar is often set far too high, and that this is usually a result of a lack of exposure to serious academic philosophy (again, I’m not referring to you here). Indeed, it’s quite obvious that far too many people who criticize the arguments for god’s existence are limited in their exposure to philosophy to these sorts of arguments alone! In other words, they have nothing of a similar kind to compare them to, which is perhaps why they so often make the mistake of comparing philosophic arguments with scientific arguments (this is *rampant* on the web, as I’m sure you know).  

So, all I’m suggesting is that some exposure to serious philosophy as such is often enough to disabuse many people of their false conceptions of just what qualities good (or bad) philosophic arguments in fact evince.

“And I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t read anything substantial in the past two months.”

I hear you there, bro — too much to read, and too little time to do it!

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drj July 30, 2009 at 8:05 am

Perhaps this is a topic for another post, but what do you (addressed to anyone here) feel that the most weakly supported empirical premises in the Kalam?
 
Can you still call it a good argument, light of the weakest empirical claims it makes (which are perhaps less believable than its conclusion)?

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Kip July 30, 2009 at 10:13 am

drj: Perhaps this is a topic for another post, but what do you (addressed to anyone here) feel that the most weakly supported empirical premises in the Kalam?

I think this one:

If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.

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JMauldin July 30, 2009 at 10:16 am

First of all, WLC is an exceptionally intelligent, well spoken and well researched philosopher. Atheists who jump in the ring (or podium as it were) with him normally underestimate his abilities as a debater and a logician capable of circling their arguments and turning them on their head. I often wonder if Craig understands the atheist’s complaints even better than they do sometimes. I have to say, reading and listening to Craig has strengthened my thought processes and understanding of logic.

I think what you’ve listed above is certainly paramount. One must know the arguments backward and forward and expect that Craig will know the rebuttal to one’s own argument so one must be very, very prepared. Atheists go into these debates thinking, “…this Christian nutjob believes in the magic-man in the sky, how much do I really need to study?” In some cases that’s true (see Todd Friel or Jason Gastrich) but definitely not in the case of WLC. What you didn’t point out, and I think it may be more important when it comes to a debate, is one must be able to spot Craig’s logical fallacies and point them out to a crowd. This requires an incredible amount of awareness and composure. Atheists (who are often unprepared) spend time on rebuttals dealing with a few points and leave the rhetorical chicanery alone. Craig is a debater of the highest skill and his rhetoric is top notch. He employees, in my opinion, shady and intentionally underhanded tactics to shame, discredit or embarrass his opponent. Can WLC really share a stage with Bart Ehrman and match him on New Testament scholarship? Of course not, but he can appeal to authority, light straw men ablaze, introduce complicated and irrelevant equations the audience can’t possibly process and dispense with a conflagration of ad hominem attacks. The audience, unaware that they’ve just witnessed a professional snake oil pitch, can walk away feeling comfortable that their faith has been defended. It is precisely these tactics that make him so difficult to debate against and future intellectual combatants need to realize this before stepping up to the podium.

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Lamplighter Jones July 30, 2009 at 11:23 am

Re: Comments on the Kalam Cosmological Argument
I disagree with Eric’s assessment: Craig wins his debates by convincing his audience that his bad arguments are good.  Craig’s method of debate is like an amateur chess player beating a novice with a fool’s mate – he knows it’s a bad strategy, but that it will work 7 times out of 10 on someone who has only ever played one game of chess.
I’ve read the version of the Kalam argument in the Blackwell companion in some detail.  To me it stands out as one of the worst arguments for anything, ever.  It’s remarkably bad, consisting mostly of logical fallacies, unsupported deductions, and factually false assertions.  Furthermore, it is self-defeating.  I don’t know of any criteria by which the Kalam argument can be judged as good, and by which some other argument can be judged as bad.
Eric pointed out that the average internet commenter does a poor job of criticizing the KCA, and so does the average atheist debater, but this says more about the laziness of commenters and debaters than it does about the invalidity of the KCA.
To drj: The Kalam argument implicitly assumes that General Relativity has unlimited predictive power, in particular that General Relativity will make correct predictions in high-density, high-energy situations like the state of the universe approx. 14 billion years ago.  I don’t know of any empirical support for this claim, and Wes Morriston pointed out this mistake in his dialogue with Craig.
This goes back to the fool’s mate analogy: Craig is taking advantage of the fact that a majority of his audience implicitly believes that some scientific theories have have unlimited predictive power.  Craig has to know that this is false, and still he refers to General Relativity and the Hawking-Penrose theorems as though they are universally applicable.

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Eric July 30, 2009 at 3:36 pm

“To me it stands out as one of the worst arguments for anything, ever.  It’s remarkably bad, consisting mostly of logical fallacies, unsupported deductions, and factually false assertions.  Furthermore, it is self-defeating.”

*This* is a wonderful token of the type  of ‘internet’ criticisms of the KCA I was referring to.

First, it’s patently ridiculous to claim that an argument that has generated so many responses in top philosophic journals by highly respected philosophers is ”one of the worst arguments *for anything*, *ever*.” (If you doubt this, then I challenge you: First, produce a similarly bad argument, develop it into an article, and get it published in a peer reviewed journal. Then, see if it generates a number of responses over a decade from top philosophers in top journals. This certainly doesn’t prove that the KCA is a good argument, but it militates against the notion that it’s one of the worst arguments ever.)

  As I said above, you might as well scream, “I have no familiarity whatsoever with ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary philosophy!” (In what follows I’ll restrict myself to popular examples) Is the KCA really worse than the arguments used by Spencer to justify social Darwinism? Is it really worse than the arguments used to support what Williams calls vulgar relativism? Is it really worse than presuppositional arguments for god’s existence?  Is it really worse than Pascal’s Wager (as commonly understood)? Is it really worse than Ayn Rand’s arguments for ethical egoism?  Is it really worse than arguments of the sort that persuaded a young Jefferson that racism (not slavery) was justified? Is it really worse than Paley’s watchmaker argument (which was rejected as absurd by many Christian intellectuals in its day)? I could go on and on and on with other popular examples, and could *really* go on and on with some arcane examples. Clearly, you didn’t put a moment of serious thought into that assertion. 

Second, you do something even worse than parrot stale criticisms of the KCA: you recite a list of things that can go wrong with an argument (embellishing your list with this redundancy:  ’..logical fallacies, unsupported deductions…’ An unsupported deduction — given a charitable understanding of what you were trying to say — *is* a type of logical fallacy) without providing a single example. This sort of nonsense is spouted on the web all the time. Please, kindly show me what fallacies Craig commits, what false premises he relies upon and how the KCA is self refuting.

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Facilis July 30, 2009 at 4:04 pm

@Lamplighter Jones
This is blatantly false. I have trouble believing you read all of the Blackwell Companion.
Craig doesn’t base his stuff ONLY on general relativity. He has often interacted with other models such as quantum cosmology and string theoretic models. He profiles many of these models in Blackwell and shows that most cosmological models imply a beginning of the universe.He also relies on other theorems , such as the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.

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Steven Carr July 31, 2009 at 1:09 am

Craig usually uses ‘argument from best explanation’ for his arguments, while usually demanding that his opponents produce logically necessary premises before he will accept their arguments.
 
Double-standards?
 
And Craig thinks he can use normal everyday intuition about time, cause, and effect in the conditions at the start of the universe, where conditions were unimaginably different to what we see today.
It is a waste of time to sit in an armchair and claim you can say what sort of causes can create universes, simply by extrapolating the intuition you have developed by observing the world around us as it is today.
 

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Lorkas July 31, 2009 at 6:52 am

Steven Carr: It is a waste of time to sit in an armchair and claim you can say what sort of causes can create universes, simply by extrapolating the intuition you have developed by observing the world around us as it is today.

And end by concluding that a vastly powerful being created it using processes that we’ve never observed or can even comprehend.

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Reginald Selkirk July 31, 2009 at 1:06 pm

 

Eric: For example, Craig’s Kalam argument is much stronger than the sorts of arguments most people adduce to support specific moral or political positions that they believe they have very good grounds for believing.

You want to compare metaphysics to aesthetics? Why go cross-category?

Lukeprog, indeed, these are very complicated arguments. However, this gets at what I was referring to, since I seriously doubt that most lay-critics of the KCA have any idea how extremely complicated it is.

Indeed, this is part of a general trend. All the simple arguments for theism have been shown to be deficient. Rather than give up, the theists play ever more complicated games of “hide the question-begging.” That the KCA is complicated influences me to believe that it is probably false, not the opposite.

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Reginald Selkirk July 31, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Eric: Also, do you have an argument for atheism (and yes, there are such arguments) that is stronger than Craig’s Kalam argument?

Absolutely. I would argue that atheism is the null hypothesis, and one should believe in atheism unless and until a convincing argument for theism is presented.  I think this is called “the presumption of disbelief.” (IANAP)
 

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Lamplighter Jones July 31, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I can’t fit a thorough analysis of the argument into a reasonable length post, so I’ll just give one example here.  Let’s have a look at the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) paper, for example, available at http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0110012 .  I find it odd that Craig never mentions whether the hypotheses of this paper are compatible with the conclusion of Section 2.1 of the KCA chapter in the companion, which would imply that space-time is locally finite.  The computations done in the BGV paper seem to assume that space-time is locally infinite – otherwise the physical meaning of phrases such as
 
“Consider a model in which the metric takes the form ds2 = dt2 – a2(t)dx2.”
 
is not clear.  Does the KCA chapter in the Blackwell companion consider any models of space-time that are locally finite?  I would be pleased to find this issue addressed somewhere.
 
I don’t think it’s obvious that the hypotheses and methods of the BGV paper are compatible with the assertion that the past is not infinite.  Maybe I missed Craig’s explanation of how they are compatible, or why it doesn’t matter that they are incompatible.  Perhaps the argument is of the form “the past is finite, but even if it’s not, we can still conclude the universe had a beginning because…”.  Nevertheless, the assertion that the various models can make predictions so accurate that they can be used as evidence for the claim that the universe has a beginning casts serious doubt on the conclusion of Section 2.1 of the KCA chapter.
 
Eric:  I don’t know if the KCA is strictly worse than the arguments you listed. Could you specify the criteria you used to judge those arguments as bad arguments?  Also, are you really encouraging me to intentionally defraud an academic journal and waste a referee’s time by asking them to review something that I know is bogus?

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Keith July 31, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Wow. I really like this site. I think the majority of the things that are said about WLC are true. But I also think that some of the things said on here are a little misleading, even some of the things that the websites host stated.

1. Underestimating Craig’s opponents: If you go through the track record of Craig’s opponents, its not like they are some bums off of the street thrown on a stage to defend atheism. Almost, or at least the vast majority of his opponents are either philosophers, or scientist, in some way, shape, or form. Those guys also have Ph.D’s, or some other type of degree in their respected fields. Craig’s opponents are no walk in the park, and it takes a person of Craig’s expertise to defeat them. They are all formidable opponents that just didn’t, or doesn’t have what it takes to defeat Craig, as some of you agree with. Now, they may not have to shape up on their “DEBATE” skills, but as far as the issues are concerned, they are well qualified to discuss the issues that are being discussed, and to undermine that is to me, misleading, because it well look as if Craig is debating people not worthy to discuss the subject, which will be in a way, a mismatch.

2. Underestimating WLC: Now as i stated, the majority of the things said about Craig’s qualifications are true. In fact, from what i read, all of it may be true. But this is still misleading. I say that because everyone seems to give him credit on his philosophical expertise, but no one gives him credit for his SCIENTIFIC experitise. The arguements that he defends requires a background in scientific knowledge as well. Now I dont think Craig has any degree in any science field, but the way he goes on about the scientific evidence, and refutes claims in regards to science against his opponents, I could never tell that he didn’t (have a degree in science). I am reading the book by Lee Stobel titled “THE CASE FOR A CREATOR”, in which Lee is interviewing Craig. And Craig is going on and on about quamtum physics just as one that has a background in that field would. He knows his stuff, and he isn’t getting any credit for it.

3. Thinking that Craigs arguments are invalid: All of Craigs arguements, in my opinion, are logically valid. And if they aren’t, they why dont his opponents call him out on it. Of all of the debates that i have watched, i dont recall i time where i see Craig defending a so called “logical fallacy” that his opponent has called him out on. And even if his opponent did do such a thing, i think Craig would have no problem refuting that claim anyway. Yet you people think that Craigs Kalam is so invalid, yet it has been fire-proof against some of the greatest minds that philosophy and science has to offer. Also, as a huge Craig fan, i say confidently that Craig would answer all of your objections against his arguements with absolutely no problem.

Craig has challenged Richard Dawkins to a debate, and Dawkins is one of the most respectable names in the science field. That tells me that Craig is confident that despite Dawkins credentials, he STILL dont believe that Dawkins has enough juice to defend atheism. Dawkins declined to debate him.

So in closing, Craigs opponents are not as naive as you people think, but Craig is BETTER than whats being said on here, and his arguements are logically valid. Thats my piece

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JMauldin July 31, 2009 at 6:10 pm

1. WLC’s opponents are indeed well qualified in their respective fields but most are not debaters up to par with the quality of WLC. I am not one who thinks WLC has won every one of his debates. In fact, I think he’s been defeated by Kagan, Ehrman, Price and Bradley. One of the problems with academics in general is that they have a difficult time translating their positions to a lay audience. WLC is an expert at this – honestly and dishonestly. He often recites his points as being unrefuted when in fact they have been (Ehrman deals with WLC’s four “facts” and WLC insists that he hasn’t). He engages in ad hominem (“Bart’s Blunder”). He constantly appeals to authority as a refutation. He frequently retreats to the possible and stands on the argument that it’s still logically valid even though the argument itself amounts to sophistry.

2. WLC refutes scientific claims when he doesn’t have to be specifically challenged. To the uneducated, and more to the point, willingly complicit in being lied to, Kent Hovind made an absurd scientific case for the historicity of Noah’s Ark sound plausible to the flock who wanted to believe it (I wonder how that’s going in jail?). Craig employees similar tactics in quoting the fringe of the scientific community (a complaint he constantly asserts on atheists siting New Testament scholars). Whenever someone uses Behe or Dembski as a scientic authority, you know they’re dealing with like minds who are working backward to meet their conclusions and who are working outside peer-reviewed journals. During his debate with Hitchens he makes a claim about evolution proving the designing hand of the creator precisely because it occured and the place when nuts. Pure sophistry. Had that statement not been made on his home turf in front of like-minded people he would’ve been laughed off the stage. What I’m saying is that WLC explaining scientific principles and relaying their conclusions to Lee Strobel is hardly convincing.

Dawkins won’t debate because sharing the stage with WLC lends a credibility to his chicanery that one shouldn’t lend and I respect that (though I’m not a big Dawkins fan). Let me ask you this. Richard Dawkins is a world class evolutionary biologist. WLC is a world class debater (and logician/philosopher). Do you think WLC would go up against Dawkins on the topic of evolution if he didn’t know he could “defeat” him with his tactics? If he didn’t know he could confuse the issue with his tricks (outlined above) and come away with a victory? That’s precisely what he does – and he’s the best at it.

Also, WLC frames his debates on purpose to give himself the advantage. On average it takes twice as long to refute a claim than make one. Craig always goes first. He data dumps information and reminds everyone that his points haven’t been refuted.

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lukeprog July 31, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Lamplighter Jones,

Could you explain in simpler terms what you mean? Are you saying that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin equations assume the infinity (continuity) of space? Also, I’d love for you to post such criticisms on one of my posts on the KCA.

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lukeprog July 31, 2009 at 6:54 pm

There’s a YouTube video of Craig taking questions from major physicists and responding quite well. His scientific knowledge is indeed impressive.

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drj July 31, 2009 at 7:50 pm

 

JMauldin: 1. WLC’s opponents are indeed well qualified in their respective fields but most are not debaters up to par with the quality of WLC.I am not one who thinks WLC has won every one of his debates.In fact, I think he’s been defeated by Kagan, Ehrman, Price and Bradley.

 
Out of those you list, I have only seen the Kagan debate… but I must say I agree.  He handled Craig expertly.  In my opinion, his debate versus Keith Parsons was also a clear and decisive loss (for Craig).  In that one, he even walked himself into a blatant contradiction, both trying to argue that Christianity was an impossible paradigm shift from Judaism, and that it was the natural and obvious conclusion for ancient peoples to arrive at, based on the events of the day.  Parsons called him on it, and he couldnt do anything but acknowledge that he was right.
 
When he does debate someone with skill enough to match him, he looks much diminished, and the arguments that seem to sail over so well in other debates, look much, much diminished.  He’s a good debater… but when he goes against someone as skilled as he is at debate, the flair he normally has isnt there… and the power of his arguments seem disappear with it.
 

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Taranu August 1, 2009 at 2:18 am

luke, could you provide a link to the You Tube video you are talking about?

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lukeprog August 1, 2009 at 5:44 am

Taranu, this is the video I’m talking about.

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cartesian August 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

Reginald Selkirk: I would argue that atheism is the null hypothesis, and one should believe in atheism unless and until a convincing argument for theism is presented.

What’s the argument? So far, this is just an assertion.

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Taranu August 1, 2009 at 11:30 am

Luke, thank you

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Reginald Selkirk August 1, 2009 at 11:31 am

 

cartesian: What’s the argument? So far, this is just an assertion.

That claims need to be backed by convincing evidence or arguments before they should be accepted, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent God is about the most extraordinary claim ever made. I’m sure you have seen this argument before, with orbiting teapots or Santa Claus or invisible pink unicorns. If you accept the presumption of disbelief for these things, but not for God, you are engaging in special pleading.
For a good philosophical treatment of this, see Antony Flew.

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cartesian August 1, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Reginald,
I asked you for an argument in support of your assertion that atheism is the null hypothesis, or the default position. In response, you said:
 
>>That claims need to be backed by convincing evidence or arguments before they should be accepted>>
 
Isn’t atheism a claim? I should think so. So then how does this premise of yours show that atheism is the default position, the null hypothesis, the position we should accept unless&until we get a compelling case for theism? Or are you one of those “atheists” that’s actually on the fence, i.e. an agnostic? So here I’m questioning your move from this italicized premise to the conclusion that I asked you to support. I think you’ve made a fallacious inference here: even granting the truth of your premise, your conclusion doesn’t follow.
 
I also think your premise is false. There are all sorts of claims that we believe even without convincing arguments or evidence. For example, you believe that there’s a computer before you, and that you’re not actually dreaming right now. And you believe that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago with the appearance of age. And I bet you think only a crazy person would think otherwise. Yet you don’t have any good deductive or inductive arguments for these claims. So you yourself don’t think this premise of yours is true. I agree with you: this premise you’ve provided is false.
 
>>that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent God is about the most extraordinary claim ever made.>>
 
Why do you think that’s extraordinary? And how does this go one inch towards showing that atheism is the default position? To prove that (which you’re trying to do), you seem to assume (i) that atheism isn’t extraordinary, and (ii) that no ordinary claims require any evidence. On these assumptions, it would follow that in the absence of a compelling case for theism, we ought to accept atheism. Unfortunately for you, the first of those claims looks question-begging, and the second is false (even according to you, given that first premise you asserted).
 
 
>>For a good philosophical treatment of this, see Antony Flew.>>
 
I’ve read Flew’s stuff on this, but I disagree with you that it’s good.

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lukeprog August 1, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Reginald, cartesian, and everyone else:

The presumption of atheism seems obvious to me, and ‘obvious’ philosophical intuitions are a big red flag to me, having mislead me so many times in the past. Besides Antony Flew, who should I read on this topic?

I tend to think that anyone making a positive claim bears a burden of proof. Even something like “the sun does not exist” is the null hypothesis, it just so happens there is overwhelming evidence to reject the null hypothesis and conclude that the sun DOES exist.

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cartesian August 1, 2009 at 3:21 pm

lukeprog: The presumption of atheism seems obvious to me, and ‘obvious’ philosophical intuitions are a big red flag to me, having mislead me so many times in the past. Besides Antony Flew, who should I read on this topic?

I wouldn’t call this “an intuition,” for what it’s worth. I’d call it “a hunch.” So in the future, if I use the word “intuition,” note that I don’t mean what you mean here. I mean that sort of conscious episode that goes on when you manage to “just see,” for example, that if (A&B) is false, then either A’s false or B’s false.
 
In answer to your question: It took me a while to realize this, but much of Plantinga’s work, I think, was meant to address this issue about the presumption of atheism. Whenever he writes about evidentialism or the de jure objection to Christian belief, what he says is relevant here. If you accept that theism (or full-blown Christianity) is warrant-basic while atheism isn’t, as Plantinga argues, then theism/Christianity turns out to be the default position. So I’d encourage you to keep trucking through Warranted Christian Belief. Also (and I hope you don’t tire of hearing this) I’d encourage you to enroll in a philosophy program.
 
This was just called to my attention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2NhBbD-NJ8
I’m not sure if that’s on your list of philosophy debates. Craig’s opponent here was (according to some websites) voted by some body to be one of the top 10 debaters in Canada. It gets a bit painful to watch…

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toweltowel August 1, 2009 at 3:45 pm

cartesian,
I would have thought my sensory experiences count as good evidence for my beliefs about my immediate observable environment, my memories count as good evidence for my beliefs about my past experiences, and that there’s a great body of evidence showing that everything wasn’t created five minutes ago. To be sure, this evidence is not enough to convince a radical skeptic, but if that alone disqualifies it as evidence, then it would seem to follow that there’s no evidence for anything, which seems like an absurd conclusion.

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cartesian August 1, 2009 at 6:30 pm

toweltowel: cartesian, I would have thought my sensory experiences count as good evidence for my beliefs about my immediate observable environment…

Well, it depends on what you mean by “good.” I agree that you’re warranted in believing the reports of your eyes (absent any defeaters). That’s the reasonable thing to do. So in that sense, yeah, your experiences do count as “good” evidence.
 
But if by “good” you mean that it gives you a strong inductive or deductive reason, I disagree. The reports of your eyes don’t provide that sort of support for your beliefs, since this sort of inference isn’t good:
 
(1) It visually seems to me that there’s a computer before me.
(2) Therefore, there’s a computer before me.
 
It’s not deductively valid, since you may be dreaming.
And you can know that it’s inductively valid only if you can know that you haven’t been dreaming on every previous occasion on which it’s seemed to you that there’s a computer before you. Since you can’t know the latter, you can’t know the former. So (1) doesn’t give you a good inductive reason to hold (2).
 
Yet nevertheless, you do hold (2). And you’re perfectly reasonable to do so. Our epistemology had better account for this fact: we very often reasonably believe things that we don’t have good deductive or inductive support for.

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cartesian August 1, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Also, for any interested, WL Craig talks about his views on evolution during this debate:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUsMHSeWvaA

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lukeprog August 1, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I recall that the part on Plantinga from the Cambridge Companion to Atheism said that perhaps Plantinga’s arguments did finally push some of the burden of proof onto the atheist.

Yeah, I’ve seen that debate on the Michael Coren show. Seriously? That guy was awful!

If I lived in a country like Australia that funded the education of their young, I would already be enrolled. But debt is repugnant to me, so I will not enroll if I will have to take on debt. But thanks for the encouragement – I would love to get a philosophy degree.

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lukeprog August 1, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Somebody needs to help Craig pick his ties.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 7:36 am

 

cartesian: Isn’t atheism a claim? I should think so. So then how does this premise of yours show that atheism is the default position, the null hypothesis, the position we should accept unless&until we get a compelling case for theism? Or are you one of those “atheists” that’s actually on the fence, i.e. an agnostic?

See Bertrand Russell on usage of “atheist” vs. “agnostic.” The word “agnostic” was not coined until the latter 19th century. I like George Smith’s treatment, pointing out that “atheist” and “agnostic” are answers to different questions. An agnostic considers a definitive answer to be unattainable, but in the meantime she either believes or does not believe.
 

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 7:42 am

cartesian: also think your premise is false. There are all sorts of claims that we believe even without convincing arguments or evidence. For example, you believe that there’s a computer before you, and that you’re not actually dreaming right now.

Well there you go. Apply this to the distinction between “atheist” and “agnostic.” I acknowledge that solipsism cannot be conclusively disproved. And yet, in the meantime, I have to come to a decision as to whether I accept the existence of the world or not.
Here is where the analogy splits. Unlike the case with theism, we have plentiful convincing (but not conclusive) evidence of the existence of an external world, so I choose to accept that evidence until such time as a conclusive case can be made (if ever). No such convincing evidence exists for the existence of a deity or supernatural world.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 7:56 am

cartesian: Also, for any interested, WL Craig talks about his views on evolution during this debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUsMHSeWvaA

Thanks. That lessens my respect for Craig. I am in full agreement with Lewis Wolpert that the evidence for evolution is excellent. He makes specific errors that I won’t go into here (full evidence for common descent, including biochemistry, genetics, etc. Bad argument about probability. Claim that naturalists have evolution as the only available explanation) since we are already a couple steps removed from the original topic.
 

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 8:34 am

cartesian: To prove that (which you’re trying to do), you seem to assume (i) that atheism isn’t extraordinary, and (ii) that no ordinary claims require any evidence. On these assumptions, it would follow that in the absence of a compelling case for theism, we ought to accept atheism.

I most certainly did not make make claim ii, and I have no idea why you think that I did.
 

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Chris August 2, 2009 at 2:28 pm

cartesian said: Isn’t atheism a claim? I should think so. So then how does this premise of yours show that atheism is the default position, the null hypothesis, the position we should accept unless&until we get a compelling case for theism? Or are you one of those “atheists” that’s actually on the fence, i.e. an agnostic?

Atheism isn’t necessarily a claim. Since atheism means “without theism” one can be (a) without belief in theism or (b) maintain active disbelief. Both fulfill the criteria of being “without theism” and so both are still atheism. I suspect that most people who call themselves atheists classify themselves as the former.
 
Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive; they deal with separate issues, indeed, answering ‘agnostic’ to the question of whether you believe in god is to not answer the question!
 
Agnosticism pertains to ones knowledge-status; atheism pertains to ones belief-status, thus you can refrain from belief (atheism) on the basis of being without evidence (agnosticism). Conversely, you can get an ‘agnostic theist’, someone who does not claim to know that god exists, but nevertheless believes one does, on faith. 
 
I would consider myself an agnostic atheist.
 
As for WLC. I must say that although he is a fantastic DEBATER, usually much better than many of the atheists he debates, that in itself does not validate his arguments, indeed, as others hand said, when he gets on stage with people who are equally skilled debaters and arguably more knowledgeable, his flair and substance disappears entirely, which suggests to me that the apparent success of WLC’s arguments relies largely on inferior opponents. For debates I’d recommend his debate with Arif Ahmed.
 

cartesian said: I also think your premise is false. There are all sorts of claims that we believe even without convincing arguments or evidence. For example, you believe that there’s a computer before you, and that you’re not actually dreaming right now. And you believe that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago with the appearance of age. And I bet you think only a crazy person would think otherwise. Yet you don’t have any good deductive or inductive arguments for these claims.

I don’t have to demonstrate that I’m NOT dreaming, or that the world was NOT created 5 minutes ago, because you have absolutely no reason for thinking that either is the case! Until you present good evidence for this, I am justified in withholding belief in those things, likewise, atheism (type (a) described above) is justified on the theists inability to demonstrate that god exists.
 
I am not saying that I am NOT dreaming, or that the world was NOT created 5 minutes ago, just as I am not saying that there is definitely no deity, rather I am simply acknowledging that I have no reason to believe that I am dreaming; no reason to believe that the world is 5 minutes old; and no reason for thinking a god does exist, thus, I am wholly justified in withholding belief in all these things.
 
I also think you’re making a poor analogy here. Although it is unjustified to believe things without inductive or deductive support, I would argue that it is still more justifiable than believing in supernatural ‘things’, which we cannot possibly have any knowledge of. And that’s not even taking into account that the term ‘supernatural’ is ontologically meaningless and epistemologically bankrupt!

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Another odd thing WLC said in the clip about evolution with Lewis Wolpert: that his being a Christian gave him more objectivity on the issue. How totally bizarre. Apparently he means that it enables him to treat the excellently-supported science of evolution and various flavors of Creationism (YEC and ID) as having nearly equal merit. That is not a definition of “objective” I can recognize.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Keith: 2. Underestimating WLC: Now as i stated, the majority of the things said about Craig’s qualifications are true. In fact, from what i read, all of it may be true. But this is still misleading. I say that because everyone seems to give him credit on his philosophical expertise, but no one gives him credit for his SCIENTIFIC experitise. The arguements that he defends requires a background in scientific knowledge as well. Now I dont think Craig has any degree in any science field, but the way he goes on about the scientific evidence, and refutes claims in regards to science against his opponents, I could never tell that he didn’t (have a degree in science). I am reading the book by Lee Stobel titled “THE CASE FOR A CREATOR”, in which Lee is interviewing Craig. And Craig is going on and on about quamtum physics just as one that has a background in that field would. He knows his stuff, and he isn’t getting any credit for it.

From now one, every time I hear someone tout WLC’s credibility in science and maths, I will think of the video that cartesian linked. And I will laugh. BTW, If you are impressed by Strobel’s book, I will also question your understanding of science. Daylight Atheism is running a nice series of posts about The Case for a Creator.

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toweltowel August 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm

cartesian: It’s not deductively valid, since you may be dreaming. And you can know that it’s inductively valid only if you can know that you haven’t been dreaming on every previous occasion on which it’s seemed to you that there’s a computer before you. Since you can’t know the latter, you can’t know the former. So (1) doesn’t give you a good inductive reason to hold (2). [emphasis added]

But why say that? Why say I can’t know I haven’t been dreaming on all those previous occasions? Admittedly, a radical skeptic would say I don’t know, and I can’t refute the radical skeptic. But surely it’s not a condition on knowledge that it pass the test of radical skepticism.
If so, then we have no reason to deny common sense here. That is, my present sensory experiences do indeed count as strong evidence for my beliefs about my immediate surroundings. To be sure, it’s not a matter of deductive entailment or inductive enumeration and generalization, but it’s strong evidence all the same. So I don’t see why we need to bring in some externalist theory of warrant.

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cartesian August 3, 2009 at 7:37 am

toweltowel: But why say that? Why say I can’t know I haven’t been dreaming on all those previous occasions?

I think you’d have to go externalist here to say that. The internal evidence you have is totally consistent with your having been dreaming your whole life. That’s why all these skeptics are worried. You can’t rule the dream hypothesis out, using your internal evidence. And I can’t see how the internal evidence even makes the dream hypothesis improbable. Can you?


>>Admittedly, a radical skeptic would say I don’t know, and I can’t refute the radical skeptic.>>

Can you tell me about the internal evidence you have that you count as good evidence against the dream hypothesis? I’m skeptical that there is any such good evidence. Can you convince me that there is?


>>That is, my present sensory experiences do indeed count as strong evidence for my beliefs about my immediate surroundings. To be sure, it’s not a matter of deductive entailment or inductive enumeration and generalization, but it’s strong evidence all the same.>>

I’m wondering how you’re using “strong” here, since you rule out deductive entailment and inductive support. If your evidence doesn’t make the external world hypothesis more probable, how is it “strong” evidence in favor of that hypothesis? If your evidence does make that hypothesis more probable, how exactly does it do that?

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cartesian August 3, 2009 at 7:42 am

Chris: I am not saying that I am NOT dreaming, or that the world was NOT created 5 minutes ago, just as I am not saying that there is definitely no deity, rather I am simply acknowledging that I have no reason to believe that I am dreaming; no reason to believe that the world is 5 minutes old; and no reason for thinking a god does exist, thus, I am wholly justified in withholding belief in all these things.

I was questioning whether you have any good evidence in favor of your belief that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago with the appearance of age. You believe that right? Well, what’s your evidence? As far as I can tell, all the evidence you could point to is just what you’d expect on the skeptical hypothesis, and so doesn’t count as strong evidence in favor of your non-skeptical belief.
 
I’m attacking this principle:


You should believe something only if your evidence (deductively or inductively) supports it.
 
I think that principle is false. I think there are things we should believe even though our evidence doesn’t inductively or deductively support it. I gave the following example: your belief that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. You should believe that, yet you don’t have good deductive or inductive evidence for it.
 
So a good response to me will have one of three forms:
(i) You can agree with me that the above bold-faced principle is false.
(ii) You can disagree that you ought to believe that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age.
(iii) You can disagree that you lack good deductive or inductive evidence for that belief.
 
Which one are you doing, exactly?

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drj August 3, 2009 at 8:50 am

 

cartesian: I think that principle is false. I think there are things we should believe even though our evidence doesn’t inductively or deductively support it. I gave the following example: your belief that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. You should believe that, yet you don’t have good deductive or inductive evidence for it.

 
 
I think we have good inductive evidence that the world has had a rich and long history, well beyond the five minute mark in the past.  Sure, its possible to propose creative, silly hypotheses – of the omphalos variety – that are completely unfalsible.  But I don’t see how this makes it impossible to make an inductive inference, that the world is as older than five minutes.
 
Its taken me more than five minutes to read through the comments here and respond.  Yet another peice of evidence that builds the case for this inductive inference.  The idea that the world is real, and has existed for more than 5 minutes is the obvious and best inductive inference from past experience.
 
 

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cartesian August 3, 2009 at 11:02 am

Dr. J,
>>I think we have good inductive evidence that the world has had a rich and long history, well beyond the five minute mark in the past.>>
 
What’s even one piece of evidence that counts against the hypothesis that the world was created five minutes ago with the appearance of age? Rusty pipes don’t; that’s exactly what the hypothesis predicts.
 
If there is no such evidence against the skeptical hypothesis, why do you say we have good evidence for the reality of the past?
 


>>Its taken me more than five minutes to read through the comments here and respond.>>
 
The evidence you have for this (I take it) is your apparent memory. But the skeptical hypothesis entails that there are such (merely) apparent memories. So this evidence you have doesn’t count in favor of your belief in the reality of the past.
 

>>The idea that the world is real, and has existed for more than 5 minutes is the obvious and best inductive inference from past experience.>>
 
I agree that it’s a reasonable and warranted inference. However, I don’t agree that the evidence deductively or inductively supports the conclusion that we draw. I don’t think you’ve said anything that shows otherwise.

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Chris August 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

 

cartesian: I was questioning whether you have any good evidence in favor of your belief that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago with the appearance of age. You believe that right? Well, what’s your evidence? As far as I can tell, all the evidence you could point to is just what you’d expect on the skeptical hypothesis, and so doesn’t count as strong evidence in favor of your non-skeptical belief.   I’m attacking this principle: You should believe something only if your evidence (deductively or inductively) supports it.   I think that principle is false. I think there are things we should believe even though our evidence doesn’t inductively or deductively support it. I gave the following example: your belief that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. You should believe that, yet you don’t have good deductive or inductive evidence for it.   So a good response to me will have one of three forms: (i) You can agree with me that the above bold-faced principle is false. (ii) You can disagree that you ought to believe that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. (iii) You can disagree that you lack good deductive or inductive evidence for that belief.   Which one are you doing, exactly?

 

As I said, I am not saying the world isn’t 5 minutes old, rather I am saying neither you nor I have ANY reason to think it is, and with that your complaint is entirely without foundation.

Even if we were within a matrix/dream reality; even if the world was 5 minutes old, we could not know the difference; it wouldn’t change anything and therefore wouldn’t matter one bit. Questions of the brain-in-a-vat/matrix variety are nothing more than pseudo-philosophy. Skepticism for the sake of skepticism is utterly pointless, and I’m afraid your complaint is nothing more pseudo-skepticism! Why? Because it is impossible to tell the difference between a real world and a matrix world! The scenario is designed from the outset to be unfalsifiable. Moreover, if there is no functional difference between existing in a 5 minuet old reality or a matrix reality and a real physical world, then the two hypothesised worlds are effectively identical.

To paraphrase a friend on this issue… if ‘my world’ is merely my dream, well then that makes me Mozart, Darwin, Shakespeare, Sagan, Einstein, and Lennon, all rolled up into one! If thats the case, I’m pretty impressive!

The bottom line is no one has to refute your matrix scenario because you have ZERO reason to believe that it is true(!), consequently it gives us no reason to doubt our perception/senses.

The ‘real physical world’ hypothesis is the more parsimonious reality. Since we physically experience the physical world via our perception/senses, and have no reason to think this world is false, nor any reason not to trust our perception/senses, and we have no reason or evidence of an alternative reality even existing, maintaining the notion that the real world is false, that our sense are not to be trusted, and that this ‘other’ reality ‘exists’ is untenable. 

Last but not least, your complaint is self-refuting! It rests on the inability to trust the realiability of our perceptions/senses. Well then, you’ve just cut the legs from under your own argument! If our senses are not to be trusted, then we have no reason to trust the notion that we are within a matrix-like dream reality or a 5 minuet old world.

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Chris August 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm

 

cartesian: I was questioning whether you have any good evidence in favor of your belief that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago with the appearance of age. You believe that right? Well, what’s your evidence? As far as I can tell, all the evidence you could point to is just what you’d expect on the skeptical hypothesis, and so doesn’t count as strong evidence in favor of your non-skeptical belief.   I’m attacking this principle: You should believe something only if your evidence (deductively or inductively) supports it.   I think that principle is false. I think there are things we should believe even though our evidence doesn’t inductively or deductively support it. I gave the following example: your belief that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. You should believe that, yet you don’t have good deductive or inductive evidence for it.   So a good response to me will have one of three forms: (i) You can agree with me that the above bold-faced principle is false. (ii) You can disagree that you ought to believe that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. (iii) You can disagree that you lack good deductive or inductive evidence for that belief.   Which one are you doing, exactly?

 

As I said, I am not saying the world isn’t 5 minutes old, rather I am saying neither you nor I have ANY reason to think it is, and with that your complaint is entirely without foundation.

Even if we were within a matrix/dream reality; even if the world was 5 minutes old, we could not know the difference; it wouldn’t change anything and therefore wouldn’t matter one bit. Questions of the brain-in-a-vat/matrix variety are nothing more than pseudo-philosophy. Skepticism for the sake of skepticism is utterly pointless, and I’m afraid your complaint is nothing more pseudo-skepticism! Why? Because it is impossible to tell the difference between a real world and a matrix world! The scenario is designed from the outset to be unfalsifiable. Moreover, if there is no functional difference between existing in a 5 minuet old reality or a matrix reality and a real physical world, then the two hypothesised worlds are effectively identical.

To paraphrase a friend on this issue… if ‘my world’ is merely my dream, well then that makes me Mozart, Darwin, Shakespeare, Sagan, Einstein, and Lennon, all rolled up into one! If thats the case, I’m pretty impressive!

The bottom line is no one has to refute your matrix scenario because you have ZERO reason to believe that it is true(!), consequently it gives us no reason to doubt our perception/senses.

The ‘real physical world’ hypothesis is the more parsimonious reality. Since we physically experience the physical world via our perception/senses, and have no reason to think this world is false, nor any reason not to trust our perception/senses, and we have no reason or evidence of an alternative reality even existing, maintaining the notion that the real world is false, that our sense are not to be trusted, and that this ‘other’ reality ‘exists’ is untenable. 

Last but not least, your complaint is self-refuting! It rests on the inability to trust the realiability of our perceptions/senses. Well then, you’ve just cut the legs from under your own argument! If our senses are not to be trusted, then we have no reason to trust the notion that we are within a matrix-like dream reality or a 5 minuet old world.

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Chris August 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Also, your argument commits the fallacy of arguing from inductive uncertainty.
The fact I cannot be absolutely certain that there is no matrix-like dream world or that the world is not 5 minutes old is NOT a reason to hold that either of these are the case, or are even possible.
Our senses and perception gives us inductive reason to accept that we live in a real physical world. The tentative nature of induction is not itself a reason to distrust our senses, or a reason to hypothesis alternative realities.
You really don’t want to be arguing that since we cannot rule out another reality, therefore this is a reason to hold to such a place or to doubt the world we live in. It’s fallacious!

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cartesian August 4, 2009 at 7:27 am

Chris,
I think that, again, you’ve missed the point of my posts. Here’s my argument, really slowly and clearly, so that you can tell me exactly which premise you disagree with:
 
(1) You believe in the reality of the past.
(2) It’s reasonable for you to believe in the reality of the past.
(3) Your evidence neither deductively nor inductively supports your belief in the reality of the past.
(4) Therefore, you reasonably believe in something, though that belief is not (inductively or deductively) supported by your evidence. (from 1-3)
(5) Therefore, it’s false that [one reasonably believes something only if his evidence ded. or induc. supports it]. (from 4)
 
Exactly which premise is false, Chris?


>>As I said, I am not saying the world isn’t 5 minutes old, rather I am saying neither you nor I have ANY reason to think it is>>
 
We’re not disagreeing about that. I’m wondering whether you have good reason to believe in the reality of the past. Do you believe in the reality of the past? Do you have good reason?


>>Even if we were within a matrix/dream reality; even if the world was 5 minutes old, we could not know the difference; it wouldn’t change anything and therefore wouldn’t matter one bit.>>
 
I think it would matter a great deal, even if I couldn’t tell the difference. If I were to ask you “Hey, would you mind if I erased your memory of this conversation and put you in the Matrix?” I bet you’d say “Yeah I’d mind! That would be awful!” It would be awful, even if you wouldn’t know it was awful. So being in the Matrix does matter, even if we wouldn’t know it. So what you say here is false.


>>Questions of the brain-in-a-vat/matrix variety are nothing more than pseudo-philosophy.>>
 
Really? Very many major philosophers have seriously discussed the problem of skepticism. I think that’s sufficient to show that it counts as legitimate philosophy. So what you say here is false.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-ancient/
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-medieval/
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism/


>>Skepticism for the sake of skepticism is utterly pointless>>
 
Who proposed skepticism for the sake of skepticism? I’m not even sure what that means, but I definitely never proposed that we be skeptics, not even for skepticism’s sake. I’m not sure what you’re going on about here.


>>Moreover, if there is no functional difference between existing in a 5 minuet old reality or a matrix reality and a real physical world, then the two hypothesised worlds are effectively identical.>>
 
I don’t know what “effectively identical” means. I only know what “identical” means. And the two worlds aren’t identical — there’s a massively salient difference between them!


>>The bottom line is no one has to refute your matrix scenario because you have ZERO reason to believe that it is true(!), consequently it gives us no reason to doubt our perception/senses.>>
 
So what you take yourself to have shown is that there’s no reason to believe that you’re dreaming. OK, I never meant to argue that you have reason to believe that you’re dreaming, so I’m happy to agree with you there. Here are my questions for you:
 
Do you have good reason to believe that you’re not dreaming now? That is, does your evidence rule out the dream hypothesis?
If so, what is this evidence?
If not, then there’s no reason to believe that you’re dreaming, and yet there’s also no reason to believe you’re not dreaming. So the beliefs are on a par, evidentially. But then on what basis do you favor the belief that you’re not dreaming? Why do you hold that belief, and not the other?


>>The ‘real physical world’ hypothesis is the more parsimonious reality.>>
 
Sadly for people with a simplicity-fetish, that’s not true. On the (or at least on a) dream hypothesis, you’re the only thing that exists. This hypothesis is about as parsimonious as they come. So if you like parsimony, you ought to believe that you’re dreaming. The non-dreaming hypothesis posits zillions of entities — not very parsimonious if you ask me!


>>Since we physically experience the physical world via our perception/senses, and have no reason to think this world is false…>>
 
It looks like you’re offering an argument to rule out skepticism here. But it’s pretty egregiously question-begging. I boldfaced the question-begging part. So your argument fails.


>>Last but not least, your complaint is self-refuting! It rests on the inability to trust the realiability of our perceptions/senses.>>
 
I’ve never asserted that our faculties are unreliable. So your objection here is wide of the mark. I think it would be best if you read my argument above (maybe multiple times), and then responded to an actual premise of mine.

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lukeprog August 4, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I have not written my posts dealing with skepticism yet, but let me say that skepticism is indeed a huge issue in contemporary philosophy, one that many philosophers continue to work on.

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Reginald Selkirk August 5, 2009 at 6:10 am

lukeprog: I have not written my posts dealing with skepticism yet

I trust you will mention that usage of the word has changed substantially. Also note if there are differences between general usage and philosophical discourse.
 

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drj August 5, 2009 at 8:13 am

Cartesian:

First let me say, I’m sure I have waded – quite obliviously – into deeper waters than I realized in regards to the skeptical hypothesis.  But in any case, I shall continue, if for no other reason than to clear up my own confusion, and to see where this all leads =).  Hopefully, I’m not exasperating you or anyone else.  Here goes:

To conclude that observations, such as rusty pipes and perception of time, cannot count as inductive support for old reality, you cite alternate skeptical hypotheses which are also entirely consistent with said evidence.  

Would I be correct to suggest that you might say – were skeptical hypotheses successfully ruled out – that observations of rusty pipes and the passage of time could count as inductive evidence for old reality?

If no, what is different about the character of those observations, that differ from other type of observation which would allow us to support a belief through induction?  Why wouldn’t they support old reality theories?  What would be good evidence for old reality, given that skeptical hypotheses were ruled out?  I seem to think rusty pipes, and the passage of time would be good evidence.

If yes, does this not pull the legs out from underneath all induction?  In other posts, you have suggested that some beliefs can be inductively supported through observation.  But for any of these beliefs, couldn’t one concoct any number of non-falsible skeptical hypothesis that are consistent and non-constradicotry with those observations?  As long as one can claim any observation is consistent with what one would expect under this skeptical hypothesis, it seems one in your position must retreat to warrant – where the belief is no longer inductively supported. 

I don’t see there is any belief at all – held as a result of induction – for which it would be impossible to concoct a consistent skeptical hypothesis.  Actually, I think it it would be quite easy.  So therefore, we cannot believe anything at all by induction.  We simply have to say its warranted.   

This seems inconsistent with your belief that things can be believed through induction.

Your thoughts? 

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Taranu August 5, 2009 at 9:21 am

Regarding W. L. Craig’s Epistemology of the Holy Spirit, I would like to point out that the YouTube user drcraigvideos recently uploaded a 3 part video series in which Craig talks about the first chapter of Reasonable Faith where he claims that one can know Christianity is true.  I don’t know why but I am unable to insert the link to these videos but you can find them on the user’s channel. Does anyone have any thoughts on what Craig is saying?

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cartesian August 5, 2009 at 11:19 am

Hi Dr. J,
>>Would I be correct to suggest that you might say – were skeptical hypotheses successfully ruled out – that observations of rusty pipes and the passage of time could count as inductive evidence for old reality?>>

I’m having trouble evaluating this counterfactual:

If the skeptical hypothesis were ruled out, I would believe that experiences as of rusty pipes count as good inductive evidence for the reality of the past.

The reason I’m having trouble is that I’m not sure exactly what’s in the antecedent. What do you mean by “ruled out”? I take that to mean that there’s a decent deductive or inductive argument against the skeptical hypothesis. Well, that’s exactly what’s at issue here — I don’t think there could be any such argument against the skeptical hypothesis. So the counterfactual you ask me to consider has, in my mind, an impossible antecedent. I’m not sure how to evaluate the truth of a counterfactual with an impossible antecedent. So I don’t know whether that counterfactual is true or false.

Since much of your post depends on my telling you whether it’s true or false, would you mind rephrasing the question?

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drj August 5, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Sure, I’ll do my best to clear it up. Hopefully this post helps.
 
To put it simply, I suspect that your arguments that suggest inductive evidence of an old reality does not exist, really amounts to a case against all belief resulting from induction.  I think there is an unstated, premise buried in your reasoning – something like this:
 
(1) If one or more skeptical hypotheses are possible, that are consistent and non-contradictory with any possible evidence for some other theory or hypothesis, then none of the theories or hypotheses can be reasonably believed by induction.
 
I am introducing this premise, which I think is true:
 
(2) If any hypothesis or theory exists, then one or more skeptical hypotheses are possible, that are consistent and non-contradictory with any possible evidence for that theory or hypothesis – (brain vat/matrix/omphalos/invisible dragons, etc)
 
Do you think these premises are true?  If you do,  it entails:
 
(3) Therefore no theory or hypothesis can be reasonably supported by induction.
 
For example, I say there is no gravitational force, just zillions of invisible undetectable leprechauns that pull and push things around.   Any inductive evidence that seems to point towards the existence of gravity,  also provides evidence for my leprechauns hypothesis.   Therefore, we cannot claim to have inductive evidence for gravity – only warranted belief.   I believe this scenario can happen with any scientific theory, or observation made through inductive reasoning – provided we have good enough imaginations… so at the end of the day, how can we reasonably believe anything through induction, if I am right about your line of reasoning?
 
Am I wrong to think the line of reasoning you used to challenge the existence of inductive evidence for old reality, actually challenges all of induction?
 

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drj August 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

PS>  So the footnote of all that is, is that it seems to me, there is plenty of inductive evidence for an old reality, that measures up to the same standards of induction that apply to everything else.

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cartesian August 6, 2009 at 6:37 am

drj: I suspect that your arguments that suggest inductive evidence of an old reality does not exist, really amounts to a case against all belief resulting from induction.

Hi Dr. J. Thanks for the clarification. I don’t think my argument here “amounts” to a case against induction (that’s not the conclusion I’m driving at), though I suspect you’re right that I’m relying on problems about induction (to support one premise), and what I say implies that induction is deeply problematic.
 
Indeed, induction is notoriously problematic:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/
 
I think there are many things that we reasonably believe, even though there’s no good argument for them. I’ve been using the reality of the past as an example, but here are other things we believe without good supporting evidence, which I could have also used as examples:
There are other minds.
There’s an external world.
Nature is uniform (i.e. induction is reliable).
The universe isn’t constantly expanding and contracting but keeping the same proportions.
 
When I reason that the sun will rise tomorrow from the premise that it’s risen every day of my life, I think this resulting belief of mine is reasonable, and indeed (assuming it’s true) counts as knowledge. But the fact is that I’m assuming — without supporting argument — that nature is uniform, and that my (relatively small) sample of observed days is representative of all days, and that laws of nature are constant throughout time. I don’t have good evidence for either of these. I just assume them. Yet — we think — that’s perfectly reasonable. So here’s yet another example of reasonably believing something without evidence.
 
The eventual punchline that I’m driving at is this: We reasonably believe (and indeed know) all sorts of things, even without compelling deductive or inductive evidence. Perhaps theism is one more of those things.
 
Put another way: When one sees how easy it is to play the skeptic with respect to belief in other minds, the external world, and the reality of the past, the fact that one can easily play the skeptic with respect to theism is much less worrying.

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cartesian August 6, 2009 at 6:39 am

Taranu: Regarding W. L. Craig’s Epistemology of the Holy Spirit, …he claims that one can know Christianity is true. … Does anyone have any thoughts on what Craig is saying?

Yes. Here he’s recapitulating one of Plantinga’s main arguments in Warranted Christian Belief. I’d recommend that you read that book.

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drj August 6, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Thanks for the reply… Just FYI, no need to address me as Dr.J…. drj is just fine, as I am not actually a doctor of any kind.
 
I think that clears things up for me a bit about your position, but one thing I am still missing.  You mention many other examples of things I would also reflexively say have good inductive support (like the sunrise prediction).
 
You state:

“We reasonably believe (and indeed know) all sorts of things, even without compelling deductive or inductive evidence. Perhaps theism is one more of those things.”

 
What I am still curious about is this; is there any belief you can think of that IS supported well enough to reasonably count as knowledge through compelling inductive evidence?

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Reginald Selkirk August 7, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Is it also possible to know that some other religion is true; say Islam or Hinduism? And which brand of Christianity is knowable? The various sects have many incompatible doctrines.
 

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Math Geek September 18, 2009 at 6:32 am

lukeprog:I tend to think that anyone making a positive claim bears a burden of proof. Even something like “the sun does not exist” is the null hypothesis, it just so happens there is overwhelming evidence to reject the null hypothesis and conclude that the sun DOES exist.

Hey LukeProg, first time commentator here. I really like your blog.

I have an interesting conjectural take on the burden of proof issue in regards to “atheism” and “theism”. I am a math teacher by trade and my understandings of both mathematical and religious philosophy are minimal at best. From the comments on this blog post and others, I have noticed that people making claims seem to be of the positive type regardless if there is any negation of the language. The main example being that Christian who demand that the atheist provide evidence for their claim of the nonexistence of a deity.

This is very similar to mathematical argumentation as I understand it.

If I make a claim regarding the truth of any mathematical proposition, it is on my head to prove it absolutely. Andrew Wiles proved the truth of this mathematical statement: x^n + y^n /= z^n for any natural numbers x, y, z and n. Notice the not equal part in the algebraic statement: this is a mathematically universal negative.

By analogy, I think that Christians demand that atheists provide absolute, certain proof that “God does not exist” is a universal negative. If any non-Christian asserts any premise that goes against the Christian’s base premise of “The God of the Bible exists” is making a positive claim toward him or her.

I guess I have 2 questions for you…

1) Is the proposition “God does not exist” a universally positive statement?

2) Does the burden of proof really lie with both parties engaged in the debate?

Either way, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to post this comment so late. If I’ve made any logical fallacies, I apologize.

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lukeprog September 18, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Math Geek,

I wrote about Atheism and the Burden of Proof before, but I want to tackle the subject again after I read he relevant philosophical literature.

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JoeK November 9, 2009 at 3:28 pm

cartesian:
 
The eventual punchline that I’m driving at is this: We reasonably believe (and indeed know) all sorts of things, even without compelling deductive or inductive evidence. Perhaps theism is one more of those things.
 
Put another way: When one sees how easy it is to play the skeptic with respect to belief in other minds, the external world, and the reality of the past, the fact that one can easily play the skeptic with respect to theism is much less worrying.  

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Hello cartesian,

Let me begin by saying my exposure to analytic philosophy is minimal, so possibly I am in over my head here. However, it seems to me that you are equivocating on the word “evidence”.

(Also, I want to apologize if the rest of this comment seems pedantic or condescending — I don’t mean it to be, but I do want to be clear and explicit.)

I agree with you that we cannot know in a deductive sense that external reality exists, the universe is > 5min old, etc. And I agree also that we are warranted in believing those things. (I think “warranted” has a specific technical meaning that I may be misusing here, but my impression is that it means, more-or-less: “it seems like a really really good idea even though I cannot formally justify it”. Treating a “warranted” belief as true is generally a safe bet.)

OK, so we agree on all that. You then make this move (or so it seems to me): “since we are warranted in believing all this other stuff about external reality etc without formal proof, then it’s OK to go ahead and believe in deities for similar reasons.”

That conclusion does not follow, as I see it, for the following reason:

You seem to be taking the fact that we cannot know objective reality exists (but that we’re warranted in believing in it anyway), and using it to claim that we’re also warranted in believing God exists in the objective reality that the the premise of your argument places in doubt.

If we accept as an axiom that there is an objective reality and that our senses predominantly reflect the state of that reality, then we can count objects, events, and relationships in that putative objective reality as “evidence”. Obviously this is not the same kind of “evidence” that one would need in order to establish the existence of objective reality; but if we accept objective reality as an axiom, we can then proceed to investigate that putative reality using whatever rules of evidence seem appropriate (personally, I like the set of rules called “science”). And what we then find is that the reality we have accepted axiomatically behaves in consistent ways. Furthermore, we find that it does not behave in ways that support an inference that deities exist.

In other words, my view is that 1) you are correct that the propositions “external reality exists” and “God exists” are on the same logical footing from the perspective of “internal”, experiential evidence, but 2) if we put aside the notion that internal evidence is all that we are justified in using to support deductive or inductive conclusions, and instead view an axiomatic objective reality as a source of evidence, then there is no justification or warrant for believing deities exist in that objective reality. (A reality which may still not exist — in which case the question of whether it contains deities becomes considerably less interesting.)

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Kris K. November 17, 2009 at 8:14 am

Hi Luke,

By chance I came upon this old post where you refer to my book — Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? I was touched that you singled out my book as the starting point for understanding many of the arguments related to Jesus’ resurrection. Although I do not view my book as providing a comprehensive analysis of the resurrection, I think it does cover in very precise detail a very important aspect of Christian origins that all of the arguments for and against Jesus’ resurrection ultimately come back to — what started it all?

If you have a moment, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions and would appreciate it if you would drop me a line at my public email address: KrisKomars1@gmail.com.

Kris K.

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Jebus March 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I dont agree. Although Craig is a clever debater, I dont think he’s very good. He squashed Hitchens because Hitch didnt prepare AND refused to be dragged into silly word games with Craig. Those attending must have thought Craig won. Check out Craig Vs Stenger and Craig Vs Ehrman. Both destroy Craig with ease.
Stenger is one of the worst public speakers I’ve heard but even he destroyers Craig. Ehrman swipes him away with ease.
The man is a disgrace and his debating skills are dishonest to say the least.
Not sure if its posted here, but check this out

http://www.bringyou.to/CraigEhrmanDebate2006.mp3

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Andrew June 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm

To debate Craig, you must accept that much of what will be talked about is necessarily metaphysical due to the nature of the topics discussed. Also, accept that you must present logically reasonable premises and conclusions – this isn’t unique to Craig, it’s fundumental to any theorem, and necessary for postulating any sort of argument. I see here that some are reluctant to do this, but I don’t know why since it’s not unusual for debates of any sort to boil down to such things. Don’t be mad at Craig just coz he’s a good debater and has well thought out premise-conclusions.

Craig also seems to do a good job of making the negation of his premises used in his arguments very hard to hold to, and indeed makes his premises seem more likely.

But the origial author of this post is right, to debate Craig, you must know your material, your opponents material, and be prepared to use debating techniques to win your argument. But this is true of any debate isn’t it? But to win a debate with Craig, that’s another story. You can begin by negating his premises for his arguments. Or you can disagree that the conclusion naturally follows from the premises. But then you must follow up with premises of your own which leads to conclusions you want to make, and you have to frame these in a manner where the premises make more sense than the negation of those premises.

To be honest though, I have not heard many debates with Craig where the negation of his premises were successfully achieved. Nor were the arguments of the opponent successfully maintained against Craig’s criticism. This has led me to seriously consider his conclusions. Dont burn me at the stake just yet, I have healthy scepticism about many things, but I think Craig has done exactly what he set out to achieve, and that is show that his beliefs are at the very least “reasonable”, in that he has used reason to show that they are at least possible, and also not just possible, but perhaps also likely.

Keep your arguments simple. Complex arguments don’t win debates, and if they are too complex, it might indicate that they are possibly wrong anyway – so be careful using them.

Hope this is useful.

Andy

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AgeOfReasonXXI July 3, 2010 at 5:49 am

you seem to be suggesting that if Craig simply states his opponents have failed to make convincing arguments for atheism(as he always does), then he wins the debate! I think Stenger, Ehrman, Kagan, Parsons, (and perhaps Price) destoryed him and exposed the dishonest spin doctor that he is

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MauricXe July 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm

you seem to be suggesting that if Craig simply states his opponents have failed to make convincing arguments for atheism(as he always does), then he wins the debate! I think Stenger, Ehrman, Kagan, Parsons, (and perhaps Price) destoryed him and exposed the dishonest spin doctor that he is

That’s all it takes when an audience is looking for talking points.

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Raymond August 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm

William Lane Craig beats the snot out of Atheists in a debate because Atheism is a lot like Anarchy: you don’t have a leader so everyone is basically promoting the arguments of multiple people and sources. Okay, maybe Dawkins is your leader but he sucks at presentation: many people I know refuse to even listen to him because he is condescending. And he’s horrible at framing ideas and presenting them.

No leader, no brains, no individuality: that is the definition of an atheist.

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AgeOfReasonXXI August 15, 2010 at 4:57 am

“No leader, no brains, no individuality: that is the definition of an atheist.”
Right. that’s why the majority of scientists,including 93%(!) of TOP U.S. scientists (NAS) are atheists! yours is one of the stupidest remarks made by a religious goon that I’ve read. keep up the silly work, we need more atheists :))

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T. Scott Brown July 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm

MathGeek:

I have a Math degree and a Philosophy minor and only speak now from that background.

There is a difference between a “negative existential” claim and a “universal negative” claim. Pure math claims (like: x^n + y^n /= z^n ) are abstractions and are only “universal” within the abstraction it describes. For instance: 1+1=2 for all values of 1 and 2 over the field of integers. However, 1 + 1 /= 2 under arithmetic modulo 2 since the number 2 does not exist in the abstraction of Mod 2 arithmetic.

The problem with negative existential statements boil down to the imperfection of evidence. James Randi has a good explanation involving Reindeer. The claim is that reindeer cannot fly(a negative existential claim). He takes a reindeer to the top of the sears tower and pushes it off. It falls to its death. With that test, you can’t even conclude that THAT reindeer can’t fly, just that it didn’t. If you throw enough off you will eventually convince any rational person that reindeer can’t fly but the only way to push it to the level of universal is to repeat the experiment with every reindeer that has ever existed AND every reindeer that will ever exist.

The bright side is that the negative existential claim is ALWAYS falsifiable. The first reindeer to fly rejects the claim. God beaming his message into every single head in whatever language they speak and giving them the EXACT same message would pretty much stop agnostics and make atheists look like kooks.

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A.J August 25, 2011 at 12:53 am

I think the problem is that way too much importance is being placed on William Craig’s public debates. I have seen some of his debates and I agree that he doesnt refute all the points raised against his position or defend his position with extreme rigour. And thats where atheists get all hung up on. They take that his position is weak from that and that he is just wrong since he doesnt elaborate enought. The problem is that there is only a limited amount of time for discussion and that he basically dumbs down the concepts for the sake of the lay audience.But I have noticed that he deals concisely with every point in his technical writings which include several journal submissions and technical books. Basically, Craigs detractors are not farmiliar with his real academic work.

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A.J August 25, 2011 at 1:00 am

I shouldnt say several. In fact He has dozens of professional journal submisions where he deals with the technical details and develops his arguments in full. I have noticed that the banal objections raised against Craig have been cogently answered by him already in his publications. Again, way too much emphasis is being placed on his piblic debates which are aimed primarily at non technical audiences.

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Fred Rone November 10, 2011 at 12:01 am

“He has dozens of professional journal submisions where he deals with the technical details and develops his arguments in full. I have noticed that the banal objections raised against Craig have been cogently answered by him already in his publications. Again, way too much emphasis is being placed on his piblic debates which are aimed primarily at non technical audiences.”

I agree. I think many laymen are often misled by the apparent simplicity of the Kalam argument, and mistake that simplicity for elementary simplicity, as opposed to fundamental simplicity. They do not appreciate the amount of scholarship that has gone into its formulation, and the quantity of professional literature that has accrued to address its premises.

I’m sure I needn’t remind you that the worst examples among amateur attempts to “refute” the Kalam argument are replete within the youtube community. Even accounting for the fact that these are scholarly attempts by laymen, this whole subculture is cringingly philosophically illiterate.

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