First report from William Lane Craig’s Quebec speaking tour

William Lane Craig completed his tour in Quebec, Canada on 2/13/09. One of the Quebecois students named Martin wrote to Dr. Craig, challenging him on many aspects of his presentation. Quebec is widely regarded as the most secular and progressive of the Canadian provinces, so I was delighted to hear from this student, but I don’t think Dr. Craig spent enough time replying to him, so I will help.

First, if you need a refresher on Craig’s standard 20 minute opening speech, look here (opening speech from the Craig-Pigliucci debate, audio from the Craig-Stenger debate, video from the Craig-Dacey debate). Bill usually argues for God from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for permitting life of any kind, objective moral values, the resurrection of Jesus as a historically-testable miracle claim, and the immediate personal experience of God.

The student Martin starts off by complaining that atheism is an adequate foundation for rational moral behavior. He writes:

…you know as well as I do that any thinking person, atheist or no, understands why rape isn’t acceptable in modern society. Being an atheist isn’t being a hedonist, and I feel that it’s pathetic I need to remind you of this.

Notice that Martin links the moral rules to the time and place in which he lives. Rape isn’t really wrong for all times and places, it’s wrong for us in this society in this time.

First of all, on atheism morality is an illusion. In an accidental universe, the only morality that exists is when societies make them up. In that sense, morality is similar to the fashion of clothing – it is purely convention. It varies by time and place. It is completely arbitrary. Let me explain some of the problems with briefly here, but a longer treatment is here.

On atheism, there is no non-physical soul, and no free will. There are therefore no moral choices nor is there moral responsibility. On atheism moral behavior is ultimately futile, as humans are all going to die individually and collectively in the heat death of the universe: it does not matter if you are moral or not, on atheism. On atheism, there is no standard by which to judge individual moral progress, or the evil in other cultures, such as widow-burning or slavery.

When an atheist speaks about morality, is isn’t talking about the way humans everywhere ought to be, he is talking about social conventions. When an atheist acts morally, he is simply imitating the fashions of the people around him – either to please himself by feeling moral, or to please other people. If they can escape the social consequences, it would be irrational for them to do the right them if it gives them no pleasure.

By the way, it’s not just me who says this. Richard Taylor, an atheist who once debated against William Lane Craig, says this:

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

Next, Martin argues that the anthropic principle is an adequate refutation of the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for life. The anthropic principle is the idea that the presence of intelligent life causes the constants to be fine-tuned 14 billion years ago. He writes:

Impressing a room full of vaguely interested people with figures about the extremely rare conditions that allow life to exist is all well and good – handwaving away the entire anthropic principle with a single bad analogy is not.

Regarding Martin’s claim about fine-tuning being explained by the anthropic principle, let me say this. First, the fine-tuning is real. If you change the constants of physics in the big bang, the universe will not support life of any kind. Consider another Martin, Martin Rees, an atheist and the British Astronomer Royal. In his book “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, he discusses 6 finely-tuned numbers.

Rees writes here:

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?

It is impossible for humans, who just appeared relatively recently, to have any causal impact on the selection of these physical constants 14 billion years ago. I discuss two known responses to the fine-tuning problem, (unobservable multiverse and non-existent observer), here.

James Inhofe says that the Fairness Doctrine will affect Christian radio

On his official blog, Senator James Inhofe links to an article from the Culture and Media Institute.  The article states that the Fairness Doctrine could affect Christian radio as well as conservative radio.

But, the return would also harm religious speech according to a senior Republican senator, James Inhofe, Okla., and the senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), Craig Parshall. Both are warning religious broadcasting is facing a threat.

According to Parshall, there are about 2400 full power radio stations with a Christian format in the United States. About 40 percent of people who regularly listen do so specifically so they can listen to “teaching, preaching and talk” formats, he said. Christian radio and television have a total reach of 75 million he claimed.

Inhofe is quoted in the article as follows:

Those warning shots from the left have raised the possibility of the Fairness Doctrine’s reinstitution, one that Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., says Christian radio isn’t immune to. According to the senior senator from Oklahoma, if the federal government had to enforce a “Fairness Doctrine,” in whatever form it may take in the legislative process, it could open the door to lawsuits by advocacy groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Religious messages are, often times, inherently political,” Inhofe said to the Culture & Media Institute. “Even when they are not, they could be considered controversial, and under the Fairness Doctrine as it once existed, controversial issues of public importance must be presented in an equitable and balanced manner. I am concerned that the ACLU and other liberal organizations will use this logic to file lawsuits against anyone who presents a message that they deem to be controversial. Though I believe these lawsuits would ultimately fail on First Amendment grounds, the chilling effect that the mere threat of a lawsuit will have on religious broadcasters could be substantial.”

Another concerned Republican is Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She is cited as follows:

“Over the last 20 years, conservative talk radio has done such an incredible job as far as getting out the message,” McMorris Rodgers said. “And although, ‘Fairness Doctrine’ may sound good, it’s just a clever title to say, ‘We’re going to shutdown conservative talk radio, and we’re going to potentially really hammer Christian radio, Christian television, and it’s very important to not allow this to move forward.”

Congressman Mike Pence also weights in:

“The American people cherish freedom, that’s why President Reagan repealed the so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine’ back in 1987,” Pence said. “This Depression-era government regulation would actually regulate the content of America’s airwaves and represents an existential threat to talk radio—and in particular—Christian talk radio.”

The article ends by discussing a legal case in which a Christian radio station was actually shut down by the FCC, because of the Fairness Doctrine. This happened in 1969, but the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987.
Jim Demint’s Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 is co-sponsored by some of my favorite conservatives, like Tom Coburn and James Inhofe.

Democrats to expand porkulus with 410 billion omnibus bill?

The Democrats aren’t done redistributing wealth to their constituencies yet. They want an increase in discretionary spending that Republicans say will cost another 410 billion dollars on top of the auto-bailout and the spendulus!

Wall Street Journal reports on the story here:

Congress returns next week to take up another spending bill, this one with a price tag of $410 billion. Unlike the emergency recovery plan rushed through Capitol Hill in a matter of weeks, this covers the regular functions of government, from education to agriculture.

The “omnibus” bill would increase discretionary spending — funds for programs that aren’t benefits like Social Security and Medicare — by 8.7% over 2008. “This would be the largest increase in discretionary spending since at least 1978 — with the exception of a 10% boost in 2002, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks — according to figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

And it’s worse… the omnibus bill will contain loads of earmarks and pork:

President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders boasted that the stimulus bill had no “earmarks,” or special projects inserted by lawmakers for their home areas. In contrast, the new spending bill will have billions of dollars in such projects.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group, has listed several thousand earmarks in bills that have passed a subcommittee or full committee and are being combined into the final version. Among them, for example, are $425,000 for Aultman Health Foundation in Canton, Ohio, to buy technology and equipment; $540,000 for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago to improve its facilities and buy equipment; and $300,000 for the Discovery Center in Boise, Idaho, to mount exhibitions and conduct outreach.

Wow, Michelle Malkin’s headline is “9,000 earmarks in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill: Gang tattoo removal, Maine lobster, La Raza & more!”.  She even has specifics from Hill staffer Tom Jones on the earmarks!

  • $200,000 for “Tattoo Removal Violence Prevention Outreach Program,” pg. 283;
  • Maine lobster earmark in the omnibus, pg. 173;
  • $5.8 million earmark for the “Ted Kennedy Institute for the Senate…for the planning and design of a building & an endowment,” pg. 232;
  • and National Council of La Raza, $473,000 earmark from Sens. Bingaman and Menendez, pg. 212.

Human Events reports (H/T GatewayPundit) that John Boehner and Mike Pence are both requesting that the bill be put out there in the open so everyone can see what’s in it. But they are getting snubbed, apparently:

House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called upon the Speaker Thursday to release the voluminous spending bill online without delay. “If Democratic leaders plan to schedule a vote on the half-trillion dollar omnibus spending bill next week, they should post the legislation online immediately so the American people have adequate time to read the measure and understand what is in it,” Boehner said. “My colleagues in the Republican leadership and I made this request two weeks ago, and to date, our request has gone unanswered…”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the House Republican Conference chairman, joined Boehner in asking again – apparently in vain — for an open process from the secretive Democrat leadership this time around. “More than two weeks ago, House Republicans called on Speaker Pelosi to post online the text of the upcoming half-trillion dollar ‘omnibus’ spending bill, bringing it out of the shadows and before the American people,” Pence said. “So far, that call has gone unanswered…”

Read the comments, the commenters have found even more earmarks!

Also, Nice Deb notes the irony of Obama painting himself as a fiscal conservative. She links to CBS News, and they say:

Mr. Obama has promised to slash the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.To do that, the president will reduce Iraq War spending, end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, and streamline government.

Contrast Obama’s wasting of taxpayer dollars with Bobby Jindal, turning down porkulus funds. The Anchoress linked to this video over at Hot Air of Jindal excoriating Obama for trying to pass off government spending as a means of stimulating the economy. Just listen to the way that Jindal structures his speech like a debater, and includes facts to support his assertions. WE NEED A COMMUNICATOR. Jindal is all substance and Obama is all style.

UPDATE: Here I explain how taking every penny earned by people making $75,000 or more will not pay for all the spending. Here I explain how Porkulus-2 would abolish the Washington, D.C. voucher program which allows school choice.

Is prescriptive morality rationally grounded on atheism?

In this post I am going to review a series of 7 posts over at Tough Questions Answered on the topic of whether evolution explains morality. The series critically analyzes two variants of godless morality, based on evolution: 1) optimistic humanism and 2) immanent purpose. Let’s start with part 1.

On optimistic humanism, moral values are not objective – that is, they do not exist for all times and places, independent of what humans believe. Instead, they are just arbitrary customs that emerge differently in different cultures, depending on the time and place. So, by good, optimistic humanists mean “what is in fashion here and now” and by bad, they mean “what is not in fashion here and now”.

On atheism, moral impulses are just the carry-overs from the need to cooperate in order to survive. Now, suppose we ask the question “Why should I following these arbitrary customs that limit my pleasure, if I can escape punishment?” TQA writes:

Why should a person be moral?  According to optimistic humanism, it is because leading a moral life will give you personal satisfaction.  Proponents of this view offer several ways of defining personal satisfaction.  Atheistic philosopher Kai Nielsen says that “there can be purposes in life even if there is no purpose to life.”   He speaks of each individual developing a life plan that may include career goals and social goals.  Meaning can be found in “things like love, friendship, caring, knowledge, self-respect, pleasure in life.”

Nielsen says that ethics is make-em-up-as-you-go, on atheism. You choose what you like, based on pleasure. That is why today people have given up on the hard virtues, like chastity, sobriety, marital fidelity, charity, self-sacrifice and devotion to children’s well-being. Instead, morality has been reduced to recycling, environmentalism, yoga, vegetarianism, animal rights, socialist tax policies, and anti-war protests.

As prominent atheist Michael Ruse says:

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

Next, part 2 notes that optimistic humanists are not able to judge the evolved morality of other times and places. Their morality was right for them, just like our morality is right for us – it is all arbitrary on atheism. Widow-burning in India isn’t really wrong on atheism, it’s just different from what we believe in our time and place. In their time and place, it’s right for them.

Atheist Michael Ruse says this about widow-burning:

“Obviously, such a practice is totally alien to Western customs and morality. In fact, we think that widow sacrifice is totally immoral. Clearly there is nothing particularly objective about this morality, nor is it something one would expect to find the inevitable product of natural selection.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

In part 3, TQA writes that moral choices and moral responsibility are impossible on atheism. On atheism, you are a computer made out of meat, and all of your outputs are fully determined by your genetic programming and sensory input.

TQA notes that:

Morality seems to require humans to possess a robust form of free will that allows them to make moral choices.  We often praise good moral acts and condemn bad moral acts as if the people we are judging have some control over their actions.  If there is no free will, then moral choices are completely determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, and it makes no sense to praise or criticize anyone because they are acting according to deterministic physical laws.

I would add this quote from Richard Dawkins:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Source)

In part 4, TQA writes that atheists cannot judge other people, or even God, because their atheistic morality is totally subjective and arbitrary. TQA cites the January-February 2005 edition of Humanist magazine, in which former American ambassador Carl Coon writes:

[Ethical] principles constitute a structure of interlocking behavioral guidelines that have been growing organically since our ancestors first became human, if not earlier.  These standards and principles didn’t descend to us from on high as some revealed truth from an intelligent being greater than ourselves.  We worked them out through a long and arduous evolutionary process marked by many wrong turns and much social discord.  Indeed, the structure is still imperfect and we continue trying to make improvements.

Then TQA exposes how all of this language is logically self-contradictory:

…notice the words he employs to describe morality: wrong turns, discord, imperfect, and improvements.  All of these words indicate that morality, over time, has been moving in a direction from worse to better, from bad to good, from imperfect to perfect.  But how is it possible for the ambassador to judge the morality of the distant past if all morals are relative?  How can he say that morality has taken “wrong turns”?  How do we know ethics are improving over time if no two time periods can be compared?

TQA goes on to define the immanent purpose view, (our survival is objectively good), in part 5. They critique it in part 6 and part 7. Here are some of their responses to this view:

  • no explanation of the origin of the value of human survival
  • evolution doesn’t justify compassion on the weak and unfit
  • no reason why individuals should conform their behavior to past observed behavior

Below are five good debates in which atheists try to answer the question: “on atheism, why is it rational for me to to do the right thing, especially when I feel less pleasure, and when I will not be punished if I do the wrong thing?”. There is no reason to be moral on atheism. And that is why atheism killed 100 million people in the 20th century alone. Atheists who do act morally are acting inconsistently and irrationally.

Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens

William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen

William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor

William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)

William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

These debate links are courtesy of ChristianJR4, who really needs to start his own blog! And there is also a good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here.

John Lennox vs Michael Shermer and Christopher Hitchens

UPDATE: Audio and video from a  panel discussion with Hitchens, Craig, etc. is linked here.

I found this debate between Michael Shermer and John Lennox, with video and audio, here. Shermer is, as usual, completely unable to bear his side of the burden of proof. He does not present a single argument other than the problem of evil, and that isn’t presented with any rigor. Lennox presses several scientific arguments from the progress of science, including the big bang. He also argues that atheism makes life and moral behavior meaningless. Shermer does not understand this simple maxim: before you can show why a belief is wrong, you need to show that a belief is wrong.

In other news, Lennox will be facing-off against Christopher Hitchens in Birmingham, AL in March 2009.

The Samford University Socratic Club is sponsoring a debate between leading atheist and acclaimed journalist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist and Oxford Professor John Lennox in what promises to be a thought-provoking evening.

“Is God Great?” will take place at 6:00 pm on March 3, 2009 at Samford University’s Wright Center in Birmingham, AL.  Doors will open to the public at 5:15, and the event will last until 8:00 with a booksigning to follow. Books will be on sale in the lobby.  Both men debated each other before for the first time this past fall at the Edinburgh International Festival over the question of whether or not Atheism could save Europe. Click here for the DVD of that event.

Tickets can be purchased through Samford University
$20 each / $10 for Samford Students

For questions or other inquiries, call 205.807.4477
For more information, see the
Socratic Club website.

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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