Thursday, January 1, 2004

Dacey vs. Craig in West Lafayette, IN

The first Dacey/Craig debate hits many of the major strong points on both sides, and therefore is a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with the arguments usually given by theists and atheists in favor of their respective positions.

Common Sense Atheism provides an excellent overview of this debate:

Craig gives his usual arguments. Dacey responds with 5 facts that fit better with atheism than with theism: the hiddenness of God, the success of science, the mind-brain connection, evolution, and the abundance of pointless suffering. Craig says that it’spossible to fit all these with Christian theism.  * * * 

In general, Dacey does a better job of being clear and organized than most of Craig’s other opponents, but in the end Craig is still more organized and had good-sounding responses to Dacey’s arguments that Dacey didn’t get a chance to rebut.

That asute blogger also points out that more than once Dacey “chooses just about the weakest counter-argument he could have picked” which is why I found this debate ultimately disappointing, though both debaters started out quite strong in their opening statements.

Most disappointing of all was that Dacey more or less allows Craig to get away with a “retreat to the possible” in which Craig asserts that each of Dacey’s five facts might somehow be made to fit within a Christian worldview.  Of course, nearly anything logically fit within nearly any worldview, given enough flexibility in the fundamental premises.  God might be a really subtle fellow who prefers to remain inscrutable and indiscernible, with a fetish for the workings of natural law as a means of creating and sustaining intelligent life, and divine indifference to the mind bogglingly massive amounts of earthly suffering.  Craig suggests as much in his rebuttal to Dacey, and Dacey pretty much lets it slide.  This is particularly galling as Craig is not arguing for the god of deism (towards which many avowed atheists are actually agnostic) but rather the god of Christian theism, which is far more difficult to reconcile with Dacey’s list.

The crucial epistemic problem here is that metaphysical naturalism (the view that everything that exists is natural and operates naturally) strictly requires every one of Dacey’s five points to be true, whereas theism neither predicts nor requires any of them to be true.  If Dacey’s audience is convinced of his five points, they have to conclude that these facts are necessary to metaphysical naturalism, while they are merely compatible with deism and only arguably possible on Christian theism.  It doesn’t take a Bayesian mathematician to figure the odds here.

Altogether, I'd give this one 4 stars, 3.75 for Dacey and 4.25 for Craig.

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