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Atheists On The Run

In which a discussion is raised on the cowardly evasion of Richard Dawkins:

I don’t know A. C. Grayling‘s reasons for not wanting to debate, but, if I remember correctly, Dawkins doesn’t do debates anymore. There’s a reason he hasn’t done one for years. As far as I know, he declared himself out of debating theists even before Craig’s current clarion call for a head to head debate. If anyone knows better, I’m open to being corrected.

I’ll start out by informing the initiator of this discussion thread that the president of the British Humanist Association Polly Toynbee has pulled out of an agreed debate with Dr. William Lane Craig in October claiming as her reason that she “hadn’t realized the nature of Mr. Lane’s debating style.”

It will be useful to provide a little bit of backdrop to this story.

First of all, I’ll encourage you to disregard the duplicitous pretensions by Mr Dawkins in this matter. I’ll get to it later. Let’s just state that for brevity’s sake, Dawkins’ staunch and inflexible refusal to debate Mr. Lane Craig, a formidable apologist for Christian Theism, has lately begun to sit uncomfortably with his fellow university professors and other eminent personalities in the skeptical movement. When a lot of hullaballoo was made about his seeming cowardice on the matter, even as he continues to reap handsome profits from the sale of a God-bashing book, Miss Toynbee decided to toss her hat in the ring to protect as it were, the ‘reputation’ of atheism or secular humanism from charges of being intellectually incapable of defending their beliefs and convictions.

So, she signed up to debate Craig when he visits the UK this fall as he challenges the fallacious fulminations in “The God Delusion” and defends Christian Theism against the now-fashionable assault by many of today’s New Atheists. There had to be a reason why Dawkins was running scared of Craig, but of course at the time, it will be fair to say that poor Miss Polly Toynbee was not cognizant of this. So you’ll have to admire her guts or bravery for offering to take on Mr. Craig. But upon closer inspection, it quickly begins to look like that all-too-familiar arrogance and hubris that unfortunately affects a lot of these New Atheists. Who on earth could Mr Craig be anyway that one ought to think twice about a debate with him? What preposterous and laughter-worthy points is some so-called philosopher from America going to raise to successfully attack atheism or skepticism anyway? Why bother to do any research on this chap? It is not likely that he would be on the same intellectual footing as we fashionable God-abolishers with his mumbo jumbo about the existence of God, so why are some respectable academics in the atheism and skeptical movements apprehensive of a debate with the fellow? So with nary a thought, and of course brimming with her cocky self-assurance, she offered to debate Mr. Craig without as much as knowing anything about the man.

In hindsight, it is rather hilarious that the woman chickened out of the debate afterwards. In all honesty, I cannot blame her much. My guess is that not too long after she cavalierly threw her hat in the ring, her handlers apprised her of the formidable nature of her opposition. Now, I am not going to suggest that she was painted a flattering picture of William Lane Craig, but whatever she was told, she was made to understand in unmistakable terms what heavy intellectual and perhaps political toll would be her portion from a widely publicized debate in which her highfalutin secular humanism or atheism was intellectually, imperiously and conclusively dealt a devastating blow. The fact is that for all the bluster, or the haughty pretension to a superior knowledge on the God-question, many of these militant evangelistic atheists and secular humanists are shockingly and I daresay disturbingly under-informed on exactly what they are supposed to be against. She can thank her lucky stars that she got out of a very severe public embarrassment.

Now, concerning Richard Dawkins, I wish to make it absolutely plain that I think he deserves respect in the field of evolutionary biology. That’s his area of expertise. The man has a gift for metaphor and for explaining evolutionary concepts in very beautiful almost poetic language. Whenever he is speaking on the issue of evolution (that narrow field in which he specializes), one may be well-served to listen to him and take his words seriously as they represent perhaps the most current understanding of evolution we have today. I make this caveat here first of all, to assure you that I do not harbor some visceral distaste for the chief apostle of atheism.

So what happens when an evolutionary biologist leaves his narrow area of discipline, and then dabbles into Philosophy or Theology by writing a God-bashing best-seller? Should he be given the same deference as he might be given when he is speaking on evolution? Should his words be swallowed wholly and uncritically by a majority of the self-styled New Atheists seeing as this man was pronouncing entirely on a subject that he has at best, a rudimentary understanding? One doesn’t even need to be a theist to see that the answer is a vigorous negative.

This is why some Christian and Skeptical groups have on their own privately sought to sponsor a debate where Richard Dawkins’ expostulations in his book will be robustly challenged thoughtfully and intellectually. It makes sense, doesn’t it? For example, if some economist, with little or no training in Biology decides to write a strongly worded book vehemently criticizing evolution, it is normal to expect proponents of the evolutionary theory to challenge that economist’s understanding of evolution.  Notice here that I am not saying that Richard Dawkins, or the economist in this case, have no right to write a book on any subject or academic discipline they fancy. But if they want to be taken very seriously, they should be very open to a mature and robust challenge of their understanding on the matter. This is where William Lane Craig steps into the picture.

We have seen that Richard Dawkins apparently has no scruples about debating persons of religious faith. His duplicitous claims of not debating creationists is belied by the fact that he has on different occasions debated people who are not rigidly wedded to his Evolution by Natural Selection like Alister McGrath, or people who might be in favor of Intelligent Design (spitefully dubbed creationism by the willfully ignorant) like John Lennox or indeed people who are creationists! We have seen that Dawkins is happy to join issues with lay clergy, and ordinary believers and theists. So let us dispatch this lie at once. When he was caught flat-footed with that lie, he is famously known to have said that he would love debates but only with someone like the Pope, a cardinal, an archbishop or some other visibly high representative for Theism. All these pronouncements sadly seem to be devoid of any real commitment. Why then is he afraid of debating someone who is reputed to be the best or rather the strongest mouthpiece for the opposition? Why is he running scared of Craig?

I suspect that the simple reason is because Richard Dawkins knows too well what a debate of that nature may do to him and his influence with this rapidly expanding quasi-religious New Atheism. As one of the four horsemen for Atheism in these times he has an image and a reputation to protect. By the way, the arguments that these New Atheists offer are neither different from that of atheists of the past century nor are they any more sophisticated. Richard Dawkins has seen clips of Craig where the unscientific and sometimes patently illogical and irrational presuppositions of latter-day New Atheists were graciously laid bare. For now, Richard Dawkins maintains that he is too busy to debate Craig—even as he runs to the bank with the handsome profit that a sophomoric treatment of the God Hypothesis has earned him. LOL, let’s not begrudge the man the fruit of his labors okay? As things stand now, it  appears that none of the shrill and highly regarded mouthpieces of the UK atheist and humanist community is willing to stand up and be counted. Of course, it’s always easier and fashionable for belligerent New Atheists to cajole and to mock on various web fora and in YouTube videos’ comments section. I suppose when Craig is done and gone, they’ll emerge to attack and discredit whatever he might have said. Nonetheless, I can’t help wondering how the rest of the high church of ‘internet atheism’ feel about this sort of spinelessness from their much adored high priests.

Truly, far from being dead or a delusion, the God-issue is alive and well in the US, the UK and many other parts of the world. Unbelief it would appear is not really anchored upon the realization that there is no God; rather it seems to be a willful and concerted refusal to accept one higher than oneself to whom one must give account. It seems to me that this New Atheism isn’t so much as a result of a genuine failure to see glaring evidence that calls for a creator; it seems to be anchored on a desire to rid oneself of moral accountability to some superintending moral law-giver; or a petulant fist-shaking at a God who as it were, failed to prevent some personal calamity from befalling one.

Conclusively, I wish to point out with very earnest tones that the truth or the falsity of beliefs and worldviews are not decided by the outcome of a debate. Inasmuch as there is no doubt in my mind that a debate with Craig will expose the laughable superficiality and the gross misrepresentations in Dawkins’ best-seller, I would not take that to mean then that the existence of God for example, has been conclusively proven or established. Likewise, if Richard Dawkins were to somehow demolish Craig’s argument in that debate, it wouldn’t also mean then that the existence of God has been refuted. It will simply mean that one side has succeeded over the other in making a compelling case for their worldview. Nevertheless, it still falls on you to honestly and sincerely weigh the evidence and choose your own worldview in the teeth of mankind’s incomplete knowledge of himself, his surroundings and the universe on a grand scale.

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Review: Sam Harris vs William Lane Craig

 

Sam Harris

I just finished watching a debate held at the University of Notre Dame between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Good From God?” The audio and video of this debate can be located further down on this page in the comment section. I’ll encourage you to watch or listen to it as objectively as you possibly can.

First of all, I have to commend Sam Harris for actually agreeing to a debate on an issue like this. He is one of the four horsemen of Atheism in the world, and as such, his views on the issue of morality, is predictably going to carry some weight.

As we have seen, Dawkins has refused to debate Craig despite a flood of requests for him to do so. After all, as the chief apostle of Atheism in the world, you would think that he shouldn’t feel any qualms about an honest discussion on the God-issues he regularly inveighs against. What is he so terrified about that he consistently shuns a debate with Craig? If he is so sure and correct about his beliefs, and he wants to expose the pathetic ‘ignorance’ or unreasonableness of Theism, then he shouldn’t mind a discussion/debate with one of Theism’s strongest apologists.

Dennett has also interacted with Craig—Dennett is also a philosopher like Craig.  But as we have seen in that exchange, and with other debates involving Dennett, he is practically useless at formal debates. As a matter of fact, he is so inept at it that you can practically feel his embarrassment when he is trounced by the opposite side.

What about Hitchens? Hitchens is probably the most oratorical of the New Atheists, but he came to the debate with Craig very unprepared; unprepared to deal with the arguments that Craig laid out and sometimes, even unprepared to have his own positions logically and critically examined. As a result he was also defeated in that debate.

 

William Lane Craig

Now, I have to point out that the rightness or wrongness of a worldview is not predicated on how poorly or how magnificently someone performs in a debate. But you have to marvel at the unjustified arrogance of the New Atheists when their best spokespersons are regularly confounded in debates against the side they deem to be populated by unsophisticated ‘faith heads’ and possibly delusional or psychopathic people.

Back to this debate with Sam Harris—I have to say that Sam Harris actually carried himself well. His task in this debate seemed to be to establish that science has a say in any discussion on Morality. He wanted to show that “the good” is just anything that tends to increase or maximize creaturely survival and comfort; and that “the bad” is anything that tends to decrease the chances of creaturely survival and comfort. His debate was liberally sprinkled with strong moral declarations. There wasn’t any doubt that he clearly apprehended a realm of objective moral values. On the existence of clear and objective moral values, he seemed to be pretty much in agreement with Craig. The only difference was that he could not provide a basis or foundation for these moral values that he eloquently espoused.

Craig, as he was wont to do, agreed with Harris’ moral indignation at some things that happen in the world.  However, Craig’s burden in this debate was to show that objective moral values were properly grounded in God. In other words, the debate was not about whether Atheists could be moral, or whether they can live and act morally.  Craig already concedes that indeed Atheists can and do live moral lives. The debate also was not on Moral Epistemology (which is how we come to know morals). It was on Moral Ontology—the existence in the real world of moral imperatives. Craig would argue that on an atheist worldview, there is no anchor or foundation for morality and as such, nothing on atheism makes morality binding on us. His argument seems to be that you need a transcendental anchor (in God) for the moral imperatives that force themselves on us.

Frankly, there was nothing new in this debate. If you’ve ever watched Atheists and Theists debate publicly and openly on the issue of Morality, you’ll find that the same issues are talked about ad nauseam. In fact, at this stage, it appears that the two sides are set in their ways and cannot be persuaded by the other no matter how well their viewpoints are articulated.

Who Designed The Designer?

Have you ever tried to debate or discuss with an atheist on the existence of God? Have you ever tried to present the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God and immediately encountered this classic Dawkinsian objection: “Who designed the designer?”  I am willing to wager that you must have. It is one of the major conversational retorts of the converts to this so-called New Atheism. I must confess that I find the logic behind this atheist argument to be unconvincing. According to Richard Dawkins you cannot infer a designer of the universe based on the complexity of the universe because this raises a further question namely “Who designed the designer?” But like Dr. William Lane Craig aptly demonstrates in the video above, contrary to Dawkins’ postulations, you do not need to have an explanation for your explanation to realize that the explanation you’ve got is the best explanation.

This is where it gets really interesting. In a debate with a theist, an atheist is likely to accuse a theist of using the “god of the gaps” argument—a charge which has the unfortunate effect of paralyzing the resolve of many a theist debater. The atheist charges that if the theist is going to claim that God created the universe, then the theist has to also answer “Who created God?”, and if that were to be ever answered, the next question would ensue “Who created that thing you said that created God?” The aim of this series of questions is to invite an infinite regress which would seem to show that the theist argument is unsound. Unfortunately, the problem with this atheist assumption is the ignorance of what the theist conception of God really is. Have you ever noticed how exasperated and dismissive an atheist usually gets when you properly demonstrate the atheist misunderstanding of the God concept?

Here is a short discussion between a theist and an atheist on this philosophically rich issue.

The theist:

The problem I have with atheistic opposition to the simple theistic inference that the cause of the universe is not and could not be physical is that using Dawkins’ own criteria, at best what we can reasonably deduce is a naturalistic explanation to some aspect or substructure of the universe. There cannot be any naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe, which when defined properly is the entirety of the physical, natural realm. Any explanation that seeks to validate that claim (the claim that one can adduce a proper and meaningful naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe) will invariably turn out to be mind-shatteringly complex, highly implausible and I might even add non-testable. The ongoing research into multiverses readily comes to mind.

If Dawkins wants to make the argument that all explanations must be simple (I suppose the term “simple” invites a bit of subjectivity) or else we should disregard them as explanations, then he should be getting slapped down by theoretical physicists. This is not biological evolution and I wonder why he appeals too strongly to an evolutionary model. Just think, the field of quantum physics is already driving the most intelligent insane how much more when we begin to talk about 11 dimensional hysperspace and all the academic jargon of brane cosmology.

In the end, even if we never settle the issue of whether a god created the universe out of nothing at the cosmological singularity, one needs to realize that this is an issue that will never be satisfactorily resolved or explained with our current understanding of physics. The best we can do is deal with physical reality AFTER a universe has mysteriously appeared. If this realization proves to be intellectual dissatisfying for the atheist, he simply has to hope that sometime in the future, some theory of cosmological beginnings can be shown to be infinite in the past. It is a position he has to hang his faith on if he doesn’t want to face the seeming unreasonableness of his atheistic commitments.

After the theist’s opening comments, the atheist starts deconstructing the opening salvo.


The Atheist:

There cannot be any naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe…will invariably turn out to be mind-shatteringly complex, highly implausible and I might even add non-testable.

I’m sorry, but the above is simply nonsense.

1) We live in a complex universe, so not too surprisingly science describing it is also complex. But complex does not mean wrong, or impossible. Its beyond our computing capacity to model the gravitation interactions of the planets in our solar system; and yet, strangely enough, they somehow get by.

2) Implausible, by whose definition? Once something has been shown to occur it is no longer implausible – its fact. Atoms were once considered to be impossible – good thing we didn’t listen to those nay-sayers.

3) Current origin (cosmological) models make very specific and testable predictions about our own universe, meaning that they are to some extent testable. I posted a link to a video earlier in this thread that deals with this very issue. The classic example is the curvature of space-time – most cosmological models demand certain curvatures. We have measured the curvature of space, and thus have already been able to invalidate some models, and support other. Likewise, various cosmological models make other testable predictions – in regards to nature of vacuum energy, the interaction between gravity and the other fundamental forces, quantum entanglement, and so forth. As we become able to test those aspects of our universe we can further develop our cosmological models.

4) Not testable now does not equal not testable in the future. Until about two decade ago we had never directly imaged atoms; now, that tech is available in most unis. Until nine years ago it wasn’t possible to image below the diffraction limit of light – today myself and dozens of other scientists do it daily. Today, there are thousands of untestable questions. Tomorrow there will be a few less…

Theist:

We live in a complex universe, so not too surprisingly science describing it is also complex. But complex does not mean wrong, or impossible. Its beyond our computing capacity to model the gravitation interactions of the planets in our solar system; and yet, strangely enough, they somehow get by.

Unfortunately, your refutations seem to be missing the point. Of course, the science describing an existing complex universe is/can be very complex indeed. The point however, if you’ve noticed, is that scientifically describing an existing universe is quite different from scientifically describing the origin of the universe. To contextualize therefore: if Dawkins’ reason for rejecting the God hypothesis for the origin of the universe is erected on the grounds that in doing so, one is positing something very complex, it would appear that he imagines that acceptable explanations must be simple. Nevertheless, as you have noted, simplicity need not be the main/the only/ or the most important criterion for accepting or refusing explanations. Therefore, objecting to God as the reason or cause for the universe, on the basis of complexity or simplicity seems neither here nor there. In any case, the scientific explanations for many things in the universe are quite complex (not simple or intuitively apparent. I am not sure why many atheists seem satisfied with this pretension to simplicity. It is rather the case that as we progress in science, we would settle for explanations that are increasingly more complex than what we currently have. The difference would be that they’d have greater explanatory scope and power.

Implausible, by whose definition? Once something has been shown to occur it is no longer implausible – its fact. Atoms were once considered to be impossible – good thing we didn’t listen to those nay-sayers.

You are treating the word “implausible” as if it means “impossible”. They have different meanings and so I am not exactly sure what your objection is here. Explanations can be implausible and yet very possible; or plausible and unfortunately impossible. Once again, any attempt to give a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe would run afoul of Dawkins’ rigid devotion to simplicity. In attempting to provide such an explanation for the origin of the universe, one would invariably have to tender explanations that are not only non-observable, but non-testable and highly implausible as well.

Current origin (cosmological) models make very specific and testable predictions about our own universe, meaning that they are to some extent testable. I posted a link to a video earlier in this thread that deals with this very issue. The classic example is the curvature of space-time – most cosmological models demand certain curvatures. We have measured the curvature of space, and thus have already been able to invalidate some models, and support other. Likewise, various cosmological models make other testable predictions – in regards to nature of vacuum energy, the interaction between gravity and the other fundamental forces, quantum entanglement, and so forth. As we become able to test those aspects of our universe we can further develop our cosmological models.

This is beside the point. Like I noted earlier, we can have reliable, reasonable and verifiable naturalistic explanations for some aspects of the universe. No one has posited that we can’t make specific and testable predictions about some phenomena in the universe. The problem lies in having a naturalistic explanation for the universe as a whole. Here, I am not saying that we are incapable of offering explanations for anything including the universe, but to assume there’s a naturalistic explanation for nature (the universe as a whole in its grandest scale) is to assume what you are trying to explain; it is assuming the prior existence of something that you are trying to show its origins. To think there is some naturalistic explanation for the origin of the universe is not to have understood what the universe properly means. All the talk about quantum entanglement, vacuum energy, gravity, space-time curvature and fundamental forces amply illustrates my point—we are merely investigating aspects of an already existing universe. When you happen on a genuine observable, testable and predictive naturalistic explanation for the very origin of the universe as a whole, I’ll be more than eager to hear it. Just don’t serve up another one of these many discredited theories out there.

Not testable now does not equal not testable in the future. Until about two decade ago we had never directly imaged atoms; now, that tech is available in most unis. Until nine years ago it wasn’t possible to image below the diffraction limit of light – today myself and dozens of other scientists do it daily. Today, there are thousands of untestable questions. Tomorrow there will be a few less…

It would appear that you have failed to understand my position. I am not in the least bit interested in examples showing that human beings have improved their knowledge with time; Or that things once thought impossible or difficult to answer or understand have been successfully resolved. To me, that is quite obvious as not to merit some sort of argument or debate. Nevertheless, in all of these, we have concerned ourselves with learning more about the intricacies of phenomena in the universe. In the already existing universe, it is very plausible that with time, we’ll discover and experimentally verify (test) many things we have a poor understanding of today. It leaves untouched though the very question of the origin of the whole shebang known as the universe. How can any naturalistic hypothesis to that end be testable? It is one thing to test an explanation of some aspect or phenomena inherent in this or any kind of possible universes, but it is another thing altogether to test an explanation purporting to show the origins of this or any other universes. It is not a surprise therefore that astrophysics and cosmology is an observational science not an experimental one. I can be charitable for example, and grant that the current research in brane cosmology/multiverses may yet yield some interesting fruit and produce some deeper and relevant understanding of our own universe. If it wants to pretend an answer to the origins of the universe, testable or non-testable sub-universal phenomena will not suffice. We will need to test and experimentally verify that any such explanations lead to the actual birth of an entire universe—I suppose, with its own variegated and stunning physical laws and constants. This is a challenge that cannot be realistically met.

Be that as it may, you are free to hang your faith on some highly implausible, non-testable and non-actualizable future state of affairs—if it helps your world-view.

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