Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Krauss vs Craig at NCSU

Every time Craig debates someone new, I get my hopes up that maybe this time he will have finally met his match. Alas, I am consistently disappointed, and this event proves (yet again) that scientific genius and lecturing skills are not sufficient for debate.

Opening statements
Craig leads with five arguments, as usual, almost but not quite the usual five. Is he evolving, perhaps just a little bit?

His first argument is one which depends on the validity of an arbitrary conceptual distinction between contingent and non-contingent existence, one which he does not attempt to support but merely assumes. Basically, everything that we know exists, exists contingently, that is, it could have been otherwise. However, we really like the idea that something exists necessarily, and although we have no evidence to suggest that this is indeed an actual mode of existence, we can safely assume that God exists in this way.

His second argument relies on the impossibility of actual infinite regress. Seems like this argument should conclude that space-time itself is finite and bounded, rather than divinely ordained, but Craig manages some clever rhetorical legerdemain here to distract the audience from this conclusion and over to the theistic hypothesis. He slides into a basic Kalam argument here, in which (as per usual) he equivocates between "cause" meaning what it is usually taken to mean, that is "natural forces rearranging existing matter into new form over time" and instead uses the term in a completely different novel and metaphysical sense. I know he has been called out on this before, so it seems downright dishonest at this point to keep banging on the same old drum.

His third argument is the usual argument from fine-tuning. The key premise here is this: "We now know that life-prohibiting universes are incomprehensibly more probable than any life-permitting universe." How can we know this? To calculate the probability of any given event, we need to have enough samples of that event taking place in order to mathmatically estimate the probability density function of the underlying natural process, this is essentially what we mean when we use the word probable in its technical sense. What Craig is implicitly claiming here is that he has observed so many universes created that he now has a good sense of which particular fundamental universal constants determine all the major features of a universe, the ranges of those few fundamental constants, and what their histograms look like within their possible ranges. Sythesizing all these observations together, Craig can mathematically estimate the apriori probability of an ensemble of fundamental constants which would allow for some variety of self-reproducing molecules, carbon-based or otherwise. In other words, Craig has the sort of knowledge which we might only expect of all-knowing transcendent beings, since these are the only sort of conscious observers who could possibly witness multiple universes coming into being and either generating life or failing to do so. Therefore, we can safely assume that if Craig is indeed correct in his unique assertion of precise mathematical knowledge regarding the probability distrubition of fundamental universal constants, He is in fact God incarnate. QED.

Craig's fourth argument is the usual argument from objective moral values. It goes like this:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values cannot exist

  2. But objective moral values do exist

  3. Therefore God exists
Of course, by "objective moral values" Craig really means values which are universally valid because they are held by a universal mind. Sort of begging the question a bit there, eh?

Craig's fifth and final argument is the argument from the gospels. He makes his usual minimal facts argument, by which he takes certain of key facts of the gospels to be true and thereby concludes that other key facts from the gospels are also true. Of course, there are plenty of biblical scholars who see it very differently. Krauss starts out his case by making it clear that he intends to be combative and even a bit of an arse. That doesn't bode well, and it goes a bit downhill from there, when Krauss starts lecturing on QM, a subject which I usually enjoy. Once again, it seems that Dr. Craig showed up for a debate while his learned opponent cannot help but fall back into lecture mode. Por el amor de Dios, why does this keep happening? Does no one ever heed Luke's warning? Does Krauss actually make any coherent atheological arguments at all? Eventually, Krauss stops lecturing and gets around to attempting a few rebuttals of Craig's alleged evidence. Just for reference this is what a rebuttal should look like:

  • Here is the key premise in my opponent’s argument: *quotes premise*

  • Here is why it is false: *makes argument*
Alternately, one could show how a given argument is deductively invalid, on account of an equivocation or some similar problem. By my estimation, Krauss makes no affirmative arguments for the truth of metaphysical naturalism, and only attempts to falsify only one or two of Craig's arguments before running out of time. Typical professorial logorrhea has claimed yet another skeptical public speaker, and yet again I find myself reaching for the blood pressure meds.

Craig cannot seem to find any particular argument to rebut, so he just picks out a few particualr claims made by Krauss and rebuts those. For example, he takes apart the notion that nothing is unstable. He also has a go at both Krauss' moral views, claiming that without Someone transcendant to whom humans are finally morally accountable, morality must be ultimately down to our own human values. Krauss leads his rebuttals with the statement that we do not know how the universe began, and we should do more science on the problem rather than simply filling in the epistemic gap with a divine miracle. This is actually a fairly decent retort to both the cosmological and teleological arguments, both of which depend upon a default to theism in the lack of a working scientific theory. Such a theistic default may well be irrational, but Craig has "common sense" on his side here, as evidenced by the fact that almost all human cultures continually propogate the meme of immaterial minds.

Throughout the rebuttal periods, Craig continually calls out Krauss for failing to rebut his opening, and eventually Krauss gets around to addressing most of it. Some of this he does well, some of it not so well. Krauss is clearly comfortable talking about cosmology and much less so when dealing with philosophy and history. Even so, Craig manages to hold his own on account of a fundamental asymmetry built into the nature of cosmology. It would take Krauss a load of time to properly flesh out a working multiverse hypothesis and connect it to first principles of quantum mechanics, but it only takes Craig half a minute to appeal to human intuitions about infinity and first causes.

Lessons learned
I've always said that no one should debate Craig without first reading up on his usual arguments and coming prepared to rebut them swiftly and effectively. That applies here as well, and it is clear that Krauss did not take Craig seriously enough to prepare for his usual arguments, since the only arguments that were well-rebutted were those in Krauss' own area of expertise, that is, fine tuning and cosmology. But there is another lesson here: Never go into a debate in which you are called upon solely to rebut the evidence for theism. Krauss never once makes an affirmative case for naturalism, and it is unclear whether this is due to unpreparedness on his part or because of the way he allowed the debate to be framed. Either way, it is damn sloppy.

Overall rating: 3.0
Believer rating: 4.5
Unbeliever rating: 1.5


Anonymous said...

kraus posted a rebuttal:

A is for Atheist said...

If you are interested in a philosophical counter to Craig's arguments, please see my blog at

As a philosopher, and a professor of religion and philosophy, I felt it was time to post my counter arguments, as Craig's arguments, although valid for the most part, are very weak; and I believe that in most of the debates I have seen so far, his opponents let him get away with far too much.

Damion said...

Thanks for that, A. Please inform Craig's future opponents. :)