Tag Archives: Apologetics

Full report from William Lane Craig’s Quebec debating tour

I received William Lane Craig’s report from his Ontario and Quebec speaking tours in my e-mail inbox. The report is not yet posted on his web site, so I reproduce the portion related to his debate at McGill against Shabir Ally below. (I wanted to post everything, but it was too much)

Here’s what Bill says about debating Shabir at McGill University in Montreal:

The next evening was my debate at the English-speaking McGill University with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally on “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” I began by presenting a case for Jesus’ resurrection, and Shabir then followed. Shabir is a very slick customer, a skilled debater and smooth speaker. Whereas my debating style tends to be pretty formal, ticking off one point after another, Shabir began his opening speech by telling a joke, which got the audience laughing, and even presenting to me a small souvenir gift from Montréal. I thought to myself, “Boy, I’m already ten points behind just on audience rapport!” But my experience is that these first impressions fade pretty quickly as the debate unfolds.

So I figured I should just carry out my plan to attack his view hard, while continuing to be gracious personally. Shabir defends a very strange view of what happened to Jesus. He holds that Jesus was crucified (despite the Qur’an’s denial of that fact) but that he was only apparently dead when he was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. Before he could die in the tomb, God assumed him into heaven and thereafter gave visions of Jesus to the disciples. In that way, Shabir is able to affirm the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, but all without Jesus’ being raised from the dead!

Unfortunately, to my surprise, Shabir didn’t even mention his theory in his opening speech but just presented a wishy-washy, feel-good talk about Islam and Christianity. “Now what should I do?” I thought. “If I attack his view when he hasn’t even presented it, I’m really going to come across as mean-spirited. But if I wait till the rebuttals, there won’t be enough time to present my critique.” As I said, I decided to go after his view anyway, explaining to the audience that this is his position in his published work.

As a preliminary observation, I pointed out that no true Muslim could embrace his view, since the Qur’an could not be more straightforward or unambiguous: “They did not kill him; they did not crucify him” (4:157). I even quoted the Arabic “wa maa qataluhu, wa maa salabuhu.” I charged that Shabir, in denying the Qur’an, had already deserted Islam for a mishmash of Christianity and Islam, which I dubbed “Chrislam.” I said that if you’re going to embrace Chrislam, why not go all the way and become a Christian?

I then argued that Shabir should do this because his view faces insuperable historical and theological objections. Historically, it has inadequate explanatory scope (since mere visions of Jesus would not explain the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection), weak explanatory power (since the early Church distinguished visions of Christ from resurrection appearances of Christ), and little plausibility (since it is highly improbable that Jesus was taken down alive).

The theological objections are even more problematic: (1) The theory provides too little, too late. For in virtue of his crucifixion, Jesus has already suffered shame, humiliation, and defeat in the minds of his enemies. (2) By misleading the disciples into thinking that Jesus was risen from the dead, Allah himself is to blame for foisting the religion of Christianity on the world, resulting in hundreds of millions rejecting Islam and going to hell! Shabir had little to say in response to these objections, except to reiterate that there’s no way of knowing that Jesus was really dead.

So in the end the palm of victory went clearly to the Christian side. But sad to say, there were very few Muslims in the audience. I hear through the grapevine that Muslims are increasingly disaffected with Shabir because of his compromises on orthodox Islam. In fact the Muslim Student Association at McGill, which had promised to help promote the debate, called at 4:00 p.m. the very afternoon of the debate to say that they weren’t coming and had decided to schedule a meeting of their own that night! So it appears that the Muslim community is losing confidence in Shabir.

His newsletter contains more about his speaking in Quebec at the University of Montreal and the University of Laval. The newsletter also discusses his debate with Shelly Kagan of Yale University, held at Columbia University. And he concludes with his upcoming speaking engagements. Please pray for Bill and consider supporting him by donating to Reasonable Faith.

Does the origin of the first living organism require an intelligent designer?

I found a good debate on this question here on the Unbelievable radio show, which is broadcast in the UK. The argument is specifically about the first replicating organism.

The first replicating organism would have to have had a number of characteristics of living things, such as the ability to store its own genetic information and replicate that information. The first living organism cannot be built up by mutation and selection, because mutation and selection require that replication already be in place. So, where did the information in the first replicator come from?

If you imagine that the simplest organism is a functional computer program, you have to ask yourself – how much code is needed to provide that minimal functionality for a living system? Whatever that amount of code is, it would have to come together all at once, because having only a part of the program in place means that the program doesn’t compile and it doesn’t run!

Here is the link to the debate audio. The debate starts at 15 and half minutes into the show, and is 1 hour long. And here is the blurb introducing the topic and speakers:

Unbelievable? – 21 February 2009
Could the DNA that makes up the building blocks of life of every living thing on the earth be the clue to a cosmic designer?

That’s the view of Christian guest Perry Marshall. An electrical engineer by background, he is now a leading authority on information systems and the internet. He says that anybody who comes at the topic of how life originated from an engineering background will see that DNA is a code that needs a designer to create the information it transmits.

Peter Hearty is an atheist biologist. He says that science does not work when you dispense with the search for a naturalistic explanation for the origin of DNA. [Note from Wintery Knight: Peter Hearty has a Ph.D in computer science!]

This is a fun and easy-to-understand debate, especially for those of us coming from a computer science or engineering background. I think it’s fun to argue with my friends about what kind of professional God would be if he had to get a job. Naturally, I always argue that God is a computer scientist, because he designed the genetic code of the first replicator. If you have a different answer, leave a comment!

For more on science and faith, see my (snarky, mean, satirical) articles on the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe in order to permit the minimal requirements for complex living systems of any kind.

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.

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.