Tag Archives: Evidence

William Lane Craig debates atheist Lawrence Krauss: Does God Exist?

British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight
British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight

Here is the video from the third debate from Dr. William Lane Craig’s speaking tour in Australia.

Format:

  • William Lane Craig (15 min)
  • Lawrence Krauss (15 min, but was actually 21:40)
  • Moderated discussion
  • Question and answer

Dr. Graham Oppy, the moderator, is a well-known atheist philosopher. He let Dr. Krauss speak for 21 minutes and 40 seconds, which is why my summary of Krauss is so long.

The video:

Summary

After careful consideration, I decided not to be snarky at all in this summary. What you read below is what happened. There may be some small mistakes, but I will fix those if people tell me about them. I also included some quotes and timestamps for the more striking things that Dr. Krauss said.

The debate itself starts at 4:50 with Dr. Craig’s opening speech. He does use slides to show the structure of his arguments.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech. (4:50)

  1. The kalam cosmological argument:
    • God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe
    • The Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem supports the absolute beginning of the universe
    • Even if our universe is part of a multiverse, the multiverse itself would have to have an absolute beginning
    • Speculative cosmologies try to challenge the Big Bang theory, but none of them – even if true – can establish that the past is eternal
    • Only two types of things could explain the origin of spece, time, matter and energy – either abstract objects or minds
    • Abstract objects do not cause effects, but minds do cause effects (we do it ourselves)
    • A mind is the best explanation for the origin of the universe
  2. The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics:
    • The underlying structure of nature is mathematical – mathematics is applicable to nature
    • Mathematical objects can either be abstract objects or useful fiction
    • Either way, there is no reason to expect that nature should be linked to abstract objects or fictions
    • But a divine mind that wants humans to understand nature is a better explanation for what we see
  3. The cosmic fine-tuning for the existence of intelligent life
    • There are two kinds of finely-tuned initial conditions: 1) cosmological constants and 2) quantities
    • These constants and quantities have to be set within a narrow range in order to permit intelligent life
    • There are three explanations for this observation: law, chance or design
    • Law is rejected because they are put in at the beginning or matter – they don’t emerge from matter
    • Chance must be rejected, because they odds are just too long unless you appeal to a world-ensemble
    • We do not observe what the world ensemble hypothesis predicts that we should observe
    • Design is the best explanation for finely-tuned constants and quantities
  4. The existence of objective moral values and duties
    • Our experience of morality (values and duties) is that it is objectively real and incumbent on us
    • When someone goes into a classroom and shoots at innocent children, that is objectively wrong
    • On naturalism, moral values and moral duties do not exist – they are conventional and variable by time and place
    • The best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties is that God exists
  5. The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus
    • There are three widely-accepted facts that are best explained by the resurrection hypothesis
    • 1) the empty tomb, 2) the post-mortem appearances, 3) the early church’s belief in the resurrection
    • Naturalistic attempts to explain these 3 boilerplate facts fail
    • The best explanation of the 3 minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
  6. The immediate experience of God
    • Belief in God is a “properly basic” belief – rational even without arguments because of experience of God

Dr. Krauss’ opening speech. (21:12)

Slides: (1234567891011121314)

  1. Religious pluralism I
    • There have been lots of different gods created by people through history
    • We’ve gotten rid of all of them by understanding how the universe works by doing science
    • Religion is just stories, and the stories are inconsistent with how the universe works
  2. Progress of naturalistic science I
    • Newtonian physics refutes the idea that angels push planets around
    • Darwinian evolution refutes design arguments, including the one that Dr. Craig presented (24:10)
    • Biochemistry hasn’t explained how life originated, but we will have the solution soon
    • Physics shows us that matter can be created and destroyed without need a God
    • Physics shows us that universes can be created and destroyed “no problem”
  3. Religious pluralism II
    • Since we have been able to disprove all the gods we’ve invented, why hang on to the last one
    • It’s unlikely that the God that Dr. Craig presented exists, because we disproved all the others he didn’t present
  4. Hiddenness of God
    • There is a complete lack of evidence for the other 999 gods, so how likely is it that the God Dr. Craig presented exists
  5. Religious pluralism III
    • There are inconsistencies between various religions, so therefore there can be no religion that is right
  6. Progress of naturalistic science II
    • Peasants had a very low level of knowledge about the world and they believed in God
    • But our level of knowledge has increased over time, so we shouldn’t believe in God now
    • Peasants thought that the Earth orbited the Sun, but this is now known to be false
    • The Scriptures said that the Earth orbited the Sun, but now we know that’s false from science
  7. Christianity plagiarizes from other religions I
    • There is nothing new or special about Jesus
    • He’s just as unpleasant as all the other gods
    • Everything particular to Jesus occurs in other religions
  8. Catholics are inconsistent about what they believe
    • I’ll bet most Catholics don’t really believe in transubstantiation
    • I’ll bet most Catholics don’t really believe in the virgin birth
  9. The resurrection is copied from many other religions
    • Dionysus, Osiris, etc.
  10. There is no evidence for the resurrection
    • The stories about Jesus were written “decades or hundreds of years after the fact”
    • The stories are inconsistent with each other
    • Dr. Craig tells me that historical Jesus scholars all accept that the resurrection happened
    • That’s like saying that all alien abductions experts agree that alien abductions happened
    • It’s unreasonable to think that the resurrection happened because no one saw it happen
    • I accept that people reported on appearances, but hallucination theory can explain that
  11. The timeline for the creation and incarnation are all wrong
    • The creation, planet formation, hominids, incarnation, etc. all take place in the wrong times
    • If God knew what he was doing, he would done everything at better times to be more efficient
  12. David Hume’s argument against miracles is sound
    • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – nothing wrong with this argument
    • Miracles are really just coincidences
    • Catholic apparitions at Lourdes disprove the historical argument that Dr. Craig made for the resurrection
  13. God is petty and jealous
    • God shouldn’t demand that we trust him, esteem him and consider his character when we make decisions
    • The atoning death of Jesus for the sins of the world also makes no sense
  14. Belief is based on geography
    • What you believe is clearly correlated with where you are born
    • There is even an Islamic clone of Dr. Craig who “uses the exact same arguments” that he does to prove Islam
    • Belief in God is decreasing in the Internet-accessible world
  15. Science can develop morals without God
    • Reason is able to guide our actions to be moral
    • Morality evolves over time, so there is no objective morality
    • Catholicism teaches things that are immoral
    • Some things are prohibited by biological revulsion, such as incest
    • But if a brother and sister have sex using condoms “is that morally wrong? I can’t say it is frankly” (37:24)
  16. Dr. Craig is irrational
    • “I came here convinced based on my past interactions and his writing that Dr. Craig was a dishonest Charlatan”
    • “Any argument that validates God is reasonable to him”
    • “And any argument against it is not only unreasonable but wrong and worth distorting”
    • “Because it must be wrong – he’s decided the answer in advance”
  17. Dr. Craig is immoral
    • Dr. Craig thinks it is OK for God to command that Canaanite children are killed
    • “So in fact if they were Canaanite children in that schoolroom that he talked about then it would be OK”
    • It’s not reasonable to justify genocide in that way, but Dr. Craig is willing to go to those lengths
  18. The cause of the origin of the space time universe need not be God
    • Dr. Craig says that if there is an explanation for the origin or space, time, matter and energy it must be God
    • But it could just as easily be turtles or Zeus
  19. Dr. Craig misrepresents the Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem
    • Alexander Vilenkin wrote me an e-mail that says that the theorem doesn’t work in all cases
    • “Dr. Craig is so convinced that these arguments must be true that he won’t listen to the fact that they’re not”
  20. Darwinian evolution explains the fine-tuning
    • “Life was fine tuned – we got rid of it with Darwin”
    • Mutation and natural selection explain the cosmic fine-tuning argument that Dr. Craig presented
  21. Suboptimal design disproves the fine-tuning argument
    • “We get back aches” therefore “This argument that [the universe] is fine-tuned for life is nonsense”
  22. William Lane Craig can be proven to exhibit homosexual behavior using logical arguments
    • Look, you can construct arguments that are clearly wrong
    • Premise 1: “All mammals exhibit homosexual behavior”
    • Premise 2: “William Lane Craig is a mammal”
    • Seems to be saying that logical arguments can prove false things “it’s nonsense”
  23. Dr. Craig distorted a podcast that some group made on pain receptors
    • Dr. Craig’s faith is so strong that it causes him to distort what this group said

Discussion: (44:35)

I will not be summarizing everything that was said, just a few main points.

The segment from 52:18 to 57:12 about the Vilenkin e-mail on the BVG theorem is a must-see. Krauss is standing up and gesticulating while Craig is calmly trying to quote a paper by Vilenkin that shows that Krauss is misrepresenting Vilenkin. Krauss constantly interrupts him. After a while, when Craig exposes him as having misrepresented Vilenkin and gets him to admit that all current eternal models of the universe are probably wrong, he quietens down and can’t even look at Craig in the face.

Cosmological argument:

  • Craig: The e-mail says any universe that is expanding, on average, requires a beginning
  • Craig: There are two models – Aguirre & Gratton and Carroll & Chen – where there is a period of contraction before the expansion
  • Craig: The two models are the ones cited in the e-mail that Dr. Krauss showed
  • Craig: In the very paper by Vilenkin that I cited, he says that both of those models don’t work
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Vilenkin said that they have to make an assumption about entropy that they have no rationale for
  • (as Craig starts to talk Krauss makes an exaggerated, disrespectful gesture and sits down in a huff)
  • Craig: Yes, an unwarranted assumption means that they don’t have EVIDENCE for their theories being correct
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “All the evidence suggests that the universe had a beginning but WE DON’T KNOW!!!!!!!” (raising his voice)
  • Craig: I’m not saying that we know that the universe had a beginning with certainty
  • Craig: I am saying that the beginning of the universe is more probably true than false based on the evidence we have
  • Craig: And you  agree with me about that – you think the universe had a beginning
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) (Unintelligible)
  • Moderator: One at a time
  • Craig: In your Vilenkin e-mail slide, at the end of the paragraph where the two models are mentioned that Vilenkin specifically shows…
  • (I am guessing that Craig is going to ask why so much of what Vilenkin wrote has been cut out of the e-mail that Krauss showed)
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) Because it was technical…
  • Moderator: Lawrence! Hang on a sec!
  • Craig: He specifically shows that these models are not past eternal, and that they require a beginning just like the others…
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) We can do the math if you want
  • Craig: Now wait. I couldn’t help notice that there on your slide there was a series of ellipsis points indicating missing text…
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “Yeah, because it was technical!”
  • Craig: “I wonder what you deleted from the original letter”
  • Krauss: (agitated and interrupting) “I just told you!”
  • Craig: “Now wait. Could it have been something like this:  (reads a quote from Vilenkin) ‘You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time. This sounds as if there is nothing wrong with having contraction prior to expansion. But the problem is that a contracting universe is highly unstable. Small perturbations would cause it to develop all sorts of messy singularities, so it would never make it to the expanding phase.’
  • Craig: “That’s Vilenkin.”
  • Krauss: “In this paper, that’s absolutely right”
  • Krauss: But it’s ok for theories to assume things that we know are wrong – they are still good theories – it’s unknown
  • (Craig turns away and looks through his papers)
  • Craig: “Isn’t it true that the only viable quantum gravity models on order today involve a beginning – have a finite past?”
  • Krauss: “No”
  • Craig: “Well, can you give us one then”
  • Krauss: (talks about a variety of possible eternal models) “In my experience in science, all of them are probably wrong”
  • Krauss: “You know most theories are wrong, which is why, you know, it’s hard”
  • Craig: “Right”

I noticed that a huge number of atheist web sites are taking the Vilenkin quote that Krauss used out of context, like this one and this one. There are probably a lot more of them like that, which I think is interesting. That’s why we have these debates, I guess. To set the record straight about who accuses people of being dishonest, and who is actually dishonest.

Fine-tuning:

  • Krauss tried to argue that he had explained the fine-tuning with the Higgs particle, but Dr. Craig said that only applied to the cosmological constant, not all the other examples of fine-tuning. Krauss said that it wasn’t impressive that this universe permitted life and that “It would have been much more surprising if we evolved in a universe in which we couldn’t live”. Krauss argued the fine-tuning was only for “Life like us”. But Dr. Craig explained that the fine-tuning is what allows us to have the basics of any kind of life, like slow-burning stars, chemical diversity, etc. – things that are required for basic minimal life functions in any living system. Craig said that he was working with the current physical laws of this universe (F = ma, etc.) and that he was looking at what changed if we changed those even slightly. Krauss tried to say that if he changed things like the mass of particles then the strength of forces would change. (But the forces aren’t laws!) Krauss argued that the cosmological constant would be even better for life if it was zero, and Craig said that the life permitting range did include zero, but that the range of life-permitting values was narrow.

Jesus’ existence:

  • Craig reponded to the mystery religions charge, the charge that the evidence for the minimal facts is too late/too weak, the charge that grief visions explained the evidence better, and Hume’s argument against miracles. Craig brought up the early creed from 1 Cor 15:3-7 and explained to Krauss that it was 5 years after the events, and that Jewish standards of oral transmission were strong enough to ensure that the creed was reliable, and most of the eyewitnesses would still have been alive.

Audience Q and A: (1:21:09)

The first topic is the grounding of morality. Krauss agrees that there is no objective morality and no objective moral oughts. He also said that that standards of behavior are arbitrary, and that they change over time and they are adopted for promoting social order. Dr. Craig pressed the point that science itself would collapse without ethical values. It assumes them, but cannot ground them.

The next topic was free will. Krauss is a determinist. Craig asked him how he could reconcile moral responsibility with determinism.

The next topic was the effectiveness of mathematics. Krauss didn’t have an explanation for it and didn’t think it needed one. Then they got into whether the Genesis has been verified by science and whether it is meant to be taken literally.

The next topic was whether philosophy makes any progress. Craig gave the example of verificationism being rejected as too narrow, and self-refuting. Krauss: “I’m going to come to the defense of philosophy for the first time”. Craig: “That’s amazing!” Krauss said that science provides new knowledge. Craig said there were some things that could be known apart from science.

William Lane Craig discusses faith and reason with university students

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students

This is an interview of Dr. William Lane Craig before college students at the University of Central Florida. (95 minutes)

You can get an MP3 of the lecture here. (33 MB)

Questions from the interviewer: (40 minutes)

  • What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
  • How would you define the word “faith”?
  • Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
  • How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
  • Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
  • Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
  • Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
  • How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
  • Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
  • When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
  • Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
  • If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
  • Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
  • Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
  • Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
  • Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?

There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).

  • Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
  • What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
  • Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
  • Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
  • Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
  • How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
  • How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
  • Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
  • If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
  • Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
  • How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
  • Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
  • Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
  • How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
  • What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
  • Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
  • When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
  • Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
  • How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?

This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?

It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue. I’m also surprised that no one asked him why God allows humans to suffer and commit acts of evil.

If you are looking for a good basic book on apologetics, then I would choose “Is God Just a Human Invention?” by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow.

Who is William Lane Craig?

About William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.

He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological ArgumentAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of JesusDivine Foreknowledge and Human FreedomTheism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of PhilosophyNew Testament StudiesJournal for the Study of the New TestamentAmerican Philosophical QuarterlyPhilosophical StudiesPhilosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.

Craig’s CV is here.

Craig’s list of publications is here.

William Lane Craig is, without a doubt, the top living defender of Christianity. He has debated all of the most famous atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. as well as academic atheists like Quentin Smith, Peter Millican, etc. if you search this blog, you’ll find many debates posted here, sometimes even with snarky summaries.

How good are the atheistic arguments of Christopher Hitchens?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

I thought that I would go over an opening statement from a previous debate featuring Christopher Hitchens to find out what atheists are like in debates. I used his opening speech from his debate with Frank Turek. The audio from that debate is here, at Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 site.

Now the important thing to remember about a generic debate on whether GOD EXISTS is that there should be no mention of any particular God, such as the Christian God, and no mention of the history of any particular religion. All arguments that assume specific theological or moral doctrines or specific religious history are irrelevant to a debate on generic theism.

The question being debated is: does a God who created and designed the universe, who has all the traditional properties of God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence, etc. exist? That is the question being debated in a “Does God Exist?” debate.

Frank Turek’s case for theism:

Frank Turek made 4 relevant arguments for theism, each of which alone would support his conclusion, that God exists:

  • the origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing
  • the fine-tuning of the physical constants to support the minimum requirements for life of any kind
  • the origin of the biological information in the first self-replicating organism
  • objective, prescriptive moral rules need to be grounded by the designer of the universe

And he also listed 4 features of the universe that are more consistent with theism than atheism (= materialism).

  • non-material minds that allow rationality that would be impossible on materialism/determinism
  • the mathematical structure of the universe and its intelligibility to the scientific method
  • free will, which is required for moral responsibility and moral choices, requires a non-material mind/soul
  • our first person experience of consciousness is best explained by a non-material mind/soul

Hitchens’ case against theism

To counter, Hitchens has to argue against God using arguments in one of two forms:

  1. The concept of God is logically self-contradictory
  2. An objective feature of the world is inconsistent with the attributes of God

The claim that God does not exist is a claim to know something about God, namely, that he does not exist. This claim requires the speaker to bear a burden of proof. In a debate on “Does God Exist?”, Hitchens must deny that God exists. Let me be clear: Hitchens must defeat the arguments for the claim that God exists, and then defend the claim that God does not exist, and support that claim using arguments and evidence.

Hitchens makes 2 basic claims:

  • There are no good reasons to believe that theism is true
  • There are good reasons to believe atheism is true

So far so good. But what are his good reasons for atheism?

  1. I personally don’t like Christianity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Catholicism getting rid of limbo
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Hell
    – Premise: I personally don’t like some episodes in church history
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  2. The plurality of religions means that no religious claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: There are lots of religions
    – Premise: The religions all disagree in their truth claims about the external world
    – Conclusion: No religion’s claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
  3. I believe in one less God than you, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: You disbelieve in every God I do, except one
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  4. Religious people are stupid and evil, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Religious people are ignorant
    – Premise: Religious people are fearful
    – Premise: Religious people are servile
    – Premise: Religious people are masochistic
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  5. Evolution explains how life progressed from single cell to today’s bio-diversity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Modern theists like Turek believe in Paley’s argument, and argued it in this debate
    – Premise: Paley’s argument was refuted by evolution
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  6. God wouldn’t have made the universe this way, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: If God exists, then he would have made the universe my way
    – Premise: The heat death of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The extinction of species wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The size of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The amount of open space wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The large number of stars wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The age of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  7. Religion makes people do things that I don’t like, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Some religions do suicide bombing
    – Premise: Some religions do child abuse
    – Premise: Some religions do genital mutilation
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  8. If you speak a sentence, I can repeat the same words as you said, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Anything that you say is good, I can say is good too
    – Premise: Anything that you say is bad, I can say is bad too
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  9. Atheists are morally superior to religious people, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Premise: You don’t act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  10. If I believe in God, I would have to submit to an authority
    – Premise: If I believe in God, then I can’t do whatever I want
    – Premise: But I want to do whatever I want
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  11. I don’t like certain Christian doctrines, therefore arguments for God from science fail and therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I don’t like the atonement
    – Premise: I don’t like the virgin birth
    – Premise: I don’t like the incarnation
    – Premise: I don’t like original sin
    – Premise: I don’t like the resurrection
    – Conclusion: Arguments that are built on recent discoveries from the progress of science like the big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, etc. are incorrect, and therefore God doesn’t exist

Andwering Hitchens’ case

  • The form of all of these arguments is logically invalid. The conclusions do not follow from the premises using the laws of logic, such as modus ponens and modus tollens.
  • Hitchens cannot complain about morality because he has no foundation for objective moral facts. What he is really expressing is that he personally does not like such-and-such a state of affairs, based on his own arbitrary personal preferences, and the arbitrary social customs that evolved in the place and time that he finds himself in. On atheism, “morality” is just describing what people do – either individually or as groups living in different times and places. There is no objective right and wrong, and no objective way we ought to be. All statements are subjective. They describe what the speaker personally likes and dislikes. Just like taste in foods or taste in dress – which varies by individually, and is influenced by time and place ARBITRARILY.

Specific comments about each argument:

  • Argument 1 tries to disprove God by arguing from Hitchens’ personal preferences about specific Christian doctrines. Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And there is no reason why God should be bound by the personal, subjective preferences of one man. In fact, the concept of God entails that his unchanging nature is the standard of good and evil. So, this argument doesn’t disprove God, it’s just a statement of personal, subjective preference.
  • Argument 2: Just because there are different truth claims made by different groups, doesn’t mean no one is correct. Mormons believe that matter existed eternally, and Jews believe it was created out of nothing. The big bang theory shows that the Mormons are wrong and the Jews are right.
  • Argument 3: First of all, the debate is a about a generic Creator and Designer, not any particular religious conception of God. So the argument is irrelevant. Moreover, Christians reject Zeus, for example, because Zeus is supposed to exist in time and space, and therefore could not be the cause of the beginning of time and space.
  • Argument 4: This is just the ad hominem fallacy. Hitchens is attacking the character of the theist, but that doesn’t show theism is false.
  • Argument 5: This argument can be granted for the sake of argument, even though it’s debatable. The point is that it is irrelevant, since it doesn’t refute any of Turek’s actual scientific arguments like the big bang, the fine-tuning of the physical constants, the origin of information in the simplest living cell.
  • Argument 6: Again, there is no reason to think that God should be bound by Hitchens’ personal opinion of how God should operate.
  • Argument 7: This is the ad hominem fallacy again. The good behavior of religious believers is not a premise in any of Turek’s FOUR arguments for theism. Therefore, Hitchens’ point is irrelevant to the debate.
  • Argument 8: The fact that the atheist can parrot moral claims is not the issue. Being able to speak English words is not what grounds objective, prescriptive morality. The issue is the ontology of moral rules, the requirement of free will in order to have moral responsibility and moral choices, ultimate significance of moral actions, and the rationality of self-sacrificial moral actions.
  • Argument 9: This is just the ad hominem fallacy again.
  • Argument 10: This is not argument so much as it reveals that the real reason Hitchens is an atheist is emotional. One might even say infantile.
  • Argument 11: Again, these specific Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And Hitchen’s subjective, personal preferences about Christian doctrine certainly do not undermine the objective scientific support for the premises in Turek’s 3 scientific arguments.

So Frank Turek talked about facts in the external world, and Christopher Hitchens mistakenly thought that his opinions and preferences about what he would do if he were God were interesting to us. They might be interesting to his psychiatrist, but they are not interesting to us.

Thomas Sowell, America’s most influential public intellectual, announces retirement

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell changed the minds of a generation of young people, including me

I had written enough posts to carry me through the Christmas and New Year’s vacation. But then something happened that caused me to come off vacation and postpone today’s scheduled post in order to write about the retirement of a man who influenced my worldview as much as anyone has. And I am not exaggerating when I say that this man contributed the most of anyone to the economic views of libertarians and conservatives. (Although his views on social and foreign policy issues were largely conservative, as well). I never disagreed with his views, or maybe it’s just that he always convinced me to change to agree with him. He’s that kind of man – if you liked having a friend who knew how to think through just about anything, then this was the guy for you.

But now he has announced his retirement. Here is his farewell column. (H/T Mary)

Excerpt:

After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.

[…]Looking back over the years, as old-timers are apt to do, I see huge changes, both for the better and for the worse.

In material things, there has been almost unbelievable progress. Most Americans did not have refrigerators back in 1930, when I was born. Television was little more than an experiment, and such things as air-conditioning or air travel were only for the very rich.

My own family did not have electricity or hot running water, in my early childhood, which was not unusual for blacks in the South in those days.

It is hard to convey to today’s generation the fear that the paralyzing disease of polio inspired, until vaccines put an abrupt end to its long reign of terror in the 1950s.

[…]Most people living in officially defined poverty in the 21st century have things like cable television, microwave ovens and air-conditioning. Most Americans did not have such things, as late as the 1980s. People whom the intelligentsia continue to call the “have-nots” today have things that the “haves” did not have, just a generation ago.

[…]With all the advances of blacks over the years, nothing so brought home to me the social degeneration in black ghettoes like a visit to a Harlem high school some years ago.

When I looked out the window at the park across the street, I mentioned that, as a child, I used to walk my dog in that park. Looks of horror came over the students’ faces, at the thought of a kid going into the hell hole which that park had become in their time.

When I have mentioned sleeping out on a fire escape in Harlem during hot summer nights, before most people could afford air-conditioning, young people have looked at me like I was a man from Mars. But blacks and whites alike had been sleeping out on fire escapes in New York since the 19th century. They did not have to contend with gunshots flying around during the night.

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

It’s a tragedy that Thomas Sowell is not more recognized in our culture. Thomas Sowell makes public appearances, but mostly to conservatives. Although I am not a Rush Limbaugh listener, I once heard Thomas Sowell sitting in for Rush, and he had another conservative black economist Walter Williams on with him. Rank-and-file conservatives bought Sowell’s books by the bushel and we went through them one after another. The first girl I ever dated went though 6 Thomas Sowell books in 2 months, then enrolled in university to study economics. That’s the kind of effect that Thomas Sowell had on people – you couldn’t read just one of his books. You read as many as you get from the public library, then you read all could afford to buy. Then you asked for them on birthdays and Christmases from your dumbfounded liberal relatives. It was fresh air – you read Thomas Sowell to get the lies and dishonesty of the progressive culture out of your mind.

But most people on the left have never heard of Thomas Sowell. Despite Sowell’s splendid scholarly credentials and academic publications, the leftist gatekeepers don’t want their liberal followers to know that the real intellect behind economic conservative is a black economist. Instead of fighting against Sowell’s ideas, their response has been to ignore him.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the institutions who are recognizing the great man’s retirement.

The American Enterprise Institute called it “the end of an era”:

In my opinion, there is no economist alive today who has done more to eloquently, articulately, and persuasively advance the principles of economic freedom, limited government, individual liberty, and a free society than Thomas Sowell. In terms of both his quantity of work (at least 40 books and several thousand newspaper columns) and the consistently excellent and crystal-clear quality of his writing, I don’t think any living free-market economist even comes close to matching Sowell’s prolific record of writing about economics. And I don’t think there is any writer today, economist or non-economist, who can match Thomas Sowell’s “idea density” and his ability to consistently pack so much profound economic wisdom into a single sentence and a single paragraph.

Even at 86 years old, Thomas Sowell has remained intellectually active with his syndicated newspaper columns and the publication last year of his 40th book — Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective — which was, amazingly, his 13th book in the last decade! To honor Thomas Sowell’s well-deserved retirement from writing his invaluable weekly column for the last quarter century, I present below some of my favorite quotations from Dr. Thomas Sowell (most were featured on a CD post in June on Sowell’s birthday) and a bonus video of the great economist:

I had to choose just a few of these, so here goes:

6. Politicians as Santa Claus. The big question that seldom— if ever— gets asked in the mainstream media is whether these are a net increase in jobs. Since the only resources that the government has are the resources it takes from the private sector, using those resources to create jobs means reducing the resources available to create jobs in the private sector.

So long as most people do not look beyond superficial appearances, politicians can get away with playing Santa Claus on all sorts of issues, while leaving havoc in their wake— such as growing unemployment, despite all the jobs being “created.”

If you show or read the quote below to anyone who is a serious conservative, they will immediately tell you that the author is Thomas Sowell, or someone summarizing Sowell’s work:

10. The Anointed Ones. In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume: 1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted, and 2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear through social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.

The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society.’

Celebrating entrepreneurs:

12. Helping the Poor. It was Thomas Edison who brought us electricity, not the Sierra Club. It was the Wright brothers who got us off the ground, not the Federal Aviation Administration. It was Henry Ford who ended the isolation of millions of Americans by making the automobile affordable, not Ralph Nader.

Those who have helped the poor the most have not been those who have gone around loudly expressing “compassion” for the poor, but those who found ways to make industry more productive and distribution more efficient, so that the poor of today can afford things that the affluent of yesterday could only dream about.

Distinctions like this is what gave so many ordinary people the desire to read more and more of Thomas Sowell to clean popular culture socialist pablum out of their minds:

13. Income Mobility. Only by focusing on the income brackets, instead of the actual people moving between those brackets, have the intelligentsia been able to verbally create a “problem” for which a “solution” is necessary. They have created a powerful vision of “classes” with “disparities” and “inequities” in income, caused by “barriers” created by “society.” But the routine rise of millions of people out of the lowest quintile over time makes a mockery of the “barriers” assumed by many, if not most, of the intelligentsia.

Everything becomes clear – as spiderwebs – with a little Thomas Sowell. And for evidence, he used the best studies from all over the world, from across all different times and places, so that you always had the evidence at your fingertips. His books are filled with footnotes for further study.

The Weekly Standard

The Weekly Standard has an article entitled “Thomas Sowell, America’s Greatest Public Intellectual, Says ‘Farewell'” by Fred Barnes.

Excerpt:

Thomas Sowell is giving up his column. I can think of lots of columnists whose writing we wouldn’t miss. Sowell isn’t one of them. Every column he wrote in a quarter-century career as a columnist was eminently worth reading. I say this having read nearly every one of them.

What made his columns so good? He wrote with sparkling clarity. He relied on facts. He didn’t showcase his scholarship, but his range of subjects was impressive. He understood his readers and didn’t write down to them. He was prolific. He wrote two columns a week and, when he had more to say, sometimes three or four. Best of all, he analyzed things from conservative—and somewhat libertarian—perspective better than anyone else and in fewer words.

If you wanted more words, you could always look to his books, and that’s what my friends and I did.

National Review

National Review has an article entitled “Thank You, Professor Sowell” by Michelle Malkin. They also re-posted an article from 2011, entitled “A Lion in High Summer”.

One quote from Michelle Malkin:

I first read Thomas Sowell in college — no thanks to my college.

At the majority of America’s institutions of “higher learning,” reading Thomas Sowell was a subversive act in the early 1990s when I was a student. It remains so today. Why? Because the prolific libertarian economist’s vast body of work is a clarion rejection of all that the liberal intelligentsia hold dear.

[…]The former leftist playwright David Mamet, in his 2008 manifesto “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal,” cited his exposure to Sowell, whom he dubbed “our greatest contemporary philosopher,” as a critical factor in his conversion. Whether tackling the “bait and switch media,” the “organized noisemakers,” or the lawless enablers of “social disintegration,” Thomas Sowell’s dozens of academic books and thousands of newspaper columns have sparked generations of his readers across the political spectrum to think independently and challenge imposed visions.

Asked once how he would like to be remembered, Sowell responded: “Oh, heavens, I’m not sure I want to be particularly remembered. I would like the ideas that I’ve put out there to be remembered.” Mission accomplished. Though it has been decades since he taught in a formal classroom, his students are legion.

This is where today’s conservatives came from – we read the Thomas Sowell. Many conservatives (e.g. – Michelle and myself) came from non-white families and cultures, just like Sowell. We were convinced to give up on the socialism popular in our families and cultures by his writing. He convinced himself, then he convinced us. In contrast, there isn’t much convincing on the secular left – most people just accept secular leftism in order to be liked – it’s not cognitive, it’s just virtue signaling. Conservatives are convinced by Thomas Sowell’s writing, whereas liberals blindly follow Hollywood celebrities. It’s just tribalism.

Ben Shapiro

Jewish conservative Ben Shapiro wrote an article in The Daily Wire entitled “Farewell to Thomas Sowell, Dean of Conservative Columnists”.

One excerpt:

In what we can only hope is the final heartbreak of 2016, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution Thomas Sowell announced his retirement from his syndicated column. Sowell isn’t just one of the great thinkers of our time. He’s a genuine voice of decency and truth in a time when screaming and hysterics gain headlines. His voice will be missed every week.

[…]For years, I’ve named Sowell as the man I’d most love to see as president. That doesn’t end just because his column has.

At the end, he lists his favorite Thomas Sowell books.

That’s to show you how real conservatives like Ben Shapiro who are having a real influence (his podcast is the #1 conservative podcast, it has exploded in popularity) were influenced by Thomas Sowell. Shapiro always says that people new to conservatism should always start with a study of basic economics, e.g. – books by Thomas Sowell. No one in my own family started out conservative. I read Thomas Sowell, then they read Thomas Sowell. That’s how we became conservatives.

Wintery Knight

I’m busy cleaning stuff out of my parents basement this holiday season. This trip, I am taking some of my books back with me. I made the choices about what to take before I saw Sowell’s retirement. Without any sentiment at all, I chose:

  • Basic Economics, 4th edition
  • Applied Economics, 2nd edition
  • Economics Facts and Fallacies, 2nd edition
  • Intellectuals and Society, 2nd edition
  • The Housing Boom and Bust, 2nd edition
  • Inside American Education
  • A Personal Odyssey
  • A Conflict of Visions
  • The Vision of the Anointed (best book for beginners)
  • Barbarians Inside the Gates
  • Black Rednecks and White Liberals

I am leaving my second edition of Basic Economics for my Dad. I understand that a new 5th edition is now out, and I might get that. I have many, many more on audio books – I buy all the audio books editions that I can get, and listen to them over and over. This is where my worldview on economic issues (not to mention marriage, gun rights, education, war, etc.) came from.

Are endogenous virus genes evidence for common descent?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

This is a guest post by JoeCoder.

It’s often argued that when two or more organisms share viral genes in the same place, it is evidence those organisms evolved from a common ancestor.  Wikipedia’s Evidence for Common Descent page frames it as follows:

Endogenous retroviruses (or ERVs) are remnant sequences in the genome left from ancient viral infections in an organism. The retroviruses (or virogenes) are always passed on to the next generation of that organism that received the infection. This leaves the virogene left in the genome. Because this event is rare and random, finding identical chromosomal positions of a virogene in two different species suggests common ancestry.

This argument presupposes that the viruses inserted themselves into genomes randomly and stick around as junk DNA baggage, rather than genomes originally being designed with viral-like genes that perform useful functions.  However this argument has unraveled as we’ve discovered useful functions for many viral-like genes, including functions that specifically require a viral-like sequence.  Some examples among many:

  1. ERV sequences protect against viral infection through interference–a matching-but-opposite strand of RNA is created to bind to and disable RNA from a virus.
  2. Likewise, ERV’s seem to function “during embryo implantation to help prevent immune recognition by the mother’s immune system”
  3. In worms, an ERV has been observed to create actual viruses that transfer DNA from somatic cells (skin/brain/heart/etc.) to germline (sperm/egg) cells whenever the worm is exposed to too much heat, allowing them to rewrite their own DNA for future generations.
  4. Viral envelopes from ERV transcripts attach to cell membranes in the placenta and causes them to fuse as a normal part of development: “The HERV-W [a human ERV] envelope glycoprotein named syncytin 1 is expressed in all trophoblastic [part of the placenta] cells and directly involved in human trophoblast fusion and differentiation [cells taking on specialized roles]”

These aren’t isolated cases of function.   Phys.org interviewed one researcher:  “When we investigated public data from embryonic cells, we found that many RNAs originated from regions in the human genome that are ERVs.  We did not only observe isolated events, but systematic activation of these ERVs. Every cell type showed transcription of specific classes, something that is very unlikely to occur by chance”.

Those cases all involve RNA viruses and that’s old news.  But two weeks ago, a single-celled eukaryote called Cafeteria roenbergensis was found to harbor maviruses within its own DNA that remain dormant until it is attacked by a large virus known as CroV.  When this happens the maviruses activate to form an attack fleet, as NewScientist reports:

A voracious marine predator plagued by a giant virus has a defence system we’ve never seen before – it fights back by making its very own virus… Rather than waiting for maviruses to arrive by chance when CroVs attack, it actually carries the genes that code for mavirus inside its own genome.  These genes are usually dormant, but they get turned on when Cafeteria is invaded by CroV. “It acts as an inducible antiviral defence system,” write Fischer and his colleague Thomas Hackl in a new preprint paper.

This process kills the Cafeteria roenbergensis cell, but is useful in defending other members of its own species.  In this experiment maviruses were deliberately inserted into the Cafeteria roenbergensis genome (see the original paper), but more interestingly, sequences similar to the Cafeteria roenbergensis viral genes have been found in a wide range of animals:

A wide range of animals, from sea anemones to crocodiles, harbour genetic elements called Maverick transposons that closely resemble the mavirus genes. It’s possible that some of these organisms can also unleash viruses that attack giant viruses.

In spite of this, New Scientist still argues “our genomes are littered with the mutant remains of viruses and genetic parasites.”  But these discoveries reveal this as a rapidly-shrinking argument of the gaps. 

Save this for the next time someone insists that viral genes are useless junk DNA and therefore evidence of common descent.