Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Lawrence Krauss responds to William Lane Craig

This, I think, illustrates the weakness of the debate format.

41 comments:

Crude said...

Wow. Let me bold what I find beautiful here.

It sometimes surprises me, although it shouldn't, how religious devotees feel the need to regularly reinforce their own convictions in groups of like-minded individuals. I suppose this is the purpose of regular Sunday church services, for example, to reinforce the community of belief in between the rest of the week when the real world may show no evidence of God, goodness, fairness, or purpose.

Reflect on Krauss being surprised at "religious devotees" reinforcing their beliefs in the company of like-minded individuals... in a letter sent to Richard Dawkins, which is then immediately posted for discussion/cheerleading in the comments sections of Pharyngula and RichardDawkins.net.

Anonymous said...

Hah, I can't tell if the OP statement is sincere or not.

I don't think Craig would have any trouble setting Krauss straight on the straw men he presents, nor do I see how a chance for further reflection and a written response really improves the quality of Krauss' argumentation.

David B Marshall said...

Victor: I don't know if you and your readers will enjoy this, but I just posted a response to comments Krauss made 2 hours into the discussion . . . my take on the old "I'm just an atheist about one more god" meme:

http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2011/04/yes-you-are-stamp-collector-why.html

It's fascinating to me how such silly arguments make their way UP the food chain, from internet blogger to eminent scientist in high-level debate.

I enjoyed the thing, though, I have to say.

David B Marshall said...

Having read Krauss' comments, I have to admit I'm disappointed. It does look a lot like sour grapes.

In his defense, though: (1) I do think he conducted himself with dignity during the debate. (2) Probably he was smarting a bit afterwards; one can understand a bit of post mortem spin. (3) Craig's critique after the fact was pretty dismissive. (4) Hanging with barbarians like PZ Myers probably doesn't put anyone in a cheery mood.

Anonymous said...

That was painful for me to read. Too many ad hominems, begged questions, and misrepresentations of Craig's positions.

Ana said...

Just because I cannot yet explain the origin of the Universe does not imply the existence of God...again God of the Gaps.

The problem with the God of the Gaps objection, is that it fails to give a criteria by which to determine when, and when not, a gap in our science knowledge can be legitimately attributed to the supernatural.

This means, that the God of the Gaps argument in principle, serves as a fixed last resort for a skeptic.

What I would like an atheist to explain, is how he would distinguish positive evidence for God, from God-of-the-gaps based "evidence" for God.

Both would involve the lack of a known naturalistic cause ...

Crude said...

Both would involve the lack of a known naturalistic cause ...

Or, at least, that the "naturalistic" explanation seems on balance less likely or reasonable.

I've thought similar. Any argument for God is, under a certain reading, a 'gap' argument isn't it? It produces an argument or observation for which God is supposed to be the best explanation.

It reminds me of a claim I ran into recently: "The only people who find theistic arguments compelling are theists!" Well... yeah. If one finds an argument for theism compelling, then one becomes a theist. What's expected? An argument that atheists find compelling but they remain atheists?

Gimli 4 the West said...

I started out sympathetic toward what he perceived to be a gracious and misunderstood attitude toward Craig's supporters and then lost me at the "burning of witches" argument. Everyone gets misunderstood and mocked by their ideological opponents.

"Burning witches" and "atheists were responsible for Stalin's crimes" afterthoughts convince no one. It just reminds me that Christianity is true about human nature.

mattghg said...

I agree with Crude @7:07. The lack of self-awareness is staggering.

Papalinton said...

Hi Ana
You say,"The problem with the God of the Gaps objection, is that it fails to give a criteria by which to determine when, and when not, a gap in our science knowledge can be legitimately attributed to the supernatural."

PapaL
A huge assumption is made in your statement Ana, that the 'supernatural' is a real condition or a real place.
The supernatural is just the process of ideation in our brains. It is a repository for all those schemas and thoughts developed in the mind to which we attribute some form of anthropomorphised teleology to make it seem real. The supernatural is simply a mind-map configuration of our mind's 'virtual reality'. nothing more, nothing less.
Of course the 'supernatural' can feel 'real' because it is embodied within our brain and linked to those areas in which feelings and emotional states are generated.
At the dawn of our evolution, god filled massive voids in our world; there were vast expanses in our knowledge and information about the natural world. What was once thought to being 'possessed by the devil' is know known to be an epileptic fit. When lightning was once considered 'god's anger' we now know it is caused by a discharge of electrostatic energy. We now know that rain is a product of evaporation and precipitation, and not a vent in the dome of the firmament separating the waters of heaven from the waters of earth.
To attribute the supernatural as a 'reality' is simply perverse or uneducated humans unable or unwilling to distinguish between the 'real [natural] world' and the 'virtual world' of the mind.
And I can understand why there is such denialism in this stance, because should theists ever recognised or understood the direct and causal superstitious origins of such thinking their whole reason d'ĂȘtre would be compromised. And nobody likes to discover they have been barking up the wrong tree. But christians know, muslims have been barking up the wrong tree since 620CE, and Muslims know that christians have been barking up the wrong tree since 100CE because there would not have been the revelation and truth of Islam, had christianity been the one true religion. Indeed Buddhists know that there is no god per se and any such acknowledgement is simply fiction.
And such belief, however strongly felt, does not make any of these three example, factual or substantive.

Crude said...

A huge assumption is made in your statement Ana, that the 'supernatural' is a real condition or a real place.

How is Ana "assuming the supernatural is a real condition or a real place"? She's pointing out a flaw in a "God of the gaps" claim - namely that it needs qualification, since any actual evidence for God would be a 'gap' where God fits and naturalism does not.

As for the rest, it's really bluster with a touch of evolutionary psychology, a field so rank even some evolutionary biologists are distancing themselves from it. Further, history is littered with failed "naturalistic" claims about and pictures of the world, some of them very recent. Apparently when a semi-popular claim about the natural world turns out to be wrong, if it was at all associated with religion it was absolutely some kind of delusion - but if it wasn't, well darnit, it was a good guess, they were trying their best, this is how progress happens.

Jason Pratt said...

Papa: {{A huge assumption is made in your statement Ana, that the 'supernatural' is a real condition or a real place.}}

Um, nope. Her statement could, in principle, have been just as well made by a reflective atheist (and/or naturalist). One does not have to believe the supernatural is real (or even theistic) to critique GotG objections when such objectors do not acknowledge a principle for determining how to distinguish mere gap appeals from best explanation appeals.

When a non-supernaturalist or non-theist (the two aren't necessarily coterminous) rejects any inference to supernatural or divine causation (respectively) as being only a gap appeal, regardless of the actual details of the inference, then the problem is not that the supernaturalist and/or theist is first presuming the truth of their inference (though that might be happening, too), but that the objector is necessarily presuming the falsity of supernaturalism and/or theism.

For example: to dismiss a counter-critique of gap objections, regardless of the details of the critique, on the ground that "The supernatural is just the process of ideation in our brains. It is a repository for all those schemas and thoughts developed in the mind to which we attribute some form of anthropomorphised teleology to make it seem real. The supernatural is simply a mind-map configuration of our mind's 'virtual reality'. nothing more, nothing less," is to simply substitute another full position (of the sort stated) as a necessary presumption. The dismissal dismisses because the counter-critiquer isn't holding the dismisser's presumption, much less holding it as a necessary fact.

But then it is the dismisser who is, in effect, engaging in a mere atheism/naturalism of the gaps argument. The gap must be filled with an atheistic and/or naturalistic explanation because atheism and/or naturalism is necessarily true, q.e.d.

JRP

One Brow said...

Ana said...
The problem with the God of the Gaps objection, is that it fails to give a criteria by which to determine when, and when not, a gap in our science knowledge can be legitimately attributed to the supernatural.

While it can be difficult to draw a clear, bright, universal line, most of the skeptics I have communicated with can describe events they would find convincing. There is a difference between, for example, events that are unexpalined based on assumptions of homogenity and those that violate homogeneity.

We don't know what happened in the earlist moments of the Big Bang or what it's cause was, but there is nothing to indicate things operated acording to physical laws that don't apply anymore.

On the other hand, if my tea is suddenly converted to wine in my glass, that would violate homogeneity. I'd take that as evidence.

Steven said...

I hadn't read the part at the top about it being a guest post by Krauss, so I had mistaken him for Myers because it was of the usual quality of work you find on that blog.

BenYachov said...

>On the other hand, if my tea is suddenly converted to wine in my glass, that would violate homogeneity. I'd take that as evidence.

How do you know the tea doesn't contain nanobots that naturally alter the molecular structure of the tea?

Just thought I'd put that out there.

Crude said...

While it can be difficult to draw a clear, bright, universal line, most of the skeptics I have communicated with can describe events they would find convincing.

Is that really the line Ana is asking for? "What would personally convince a skeptic" is just that - personal.

We don't know what happened in the earlist moments of the Big Bang or what it's cause was, but there is nothing to indicate things operated acording to physical laws that don't apply anymore.

MICHIO KAKU: The fundamental problem of cosmology is that the laws of physics as we know them break down at the instant of the Big Bang. Well some people say what's wrong with that, what's wrong with having the laws of physics collapse? Well for a physicist this is a disaster. All our lives we've dedicated to the proposition that the Universe obeys knowable laws, laws that can be written down in the language of mathematics and here we have the centrepiece of the Universe itself, a missing piece beyond physical law.

Crude said...

Ben,

How do you know the tea doesn't contain nanobots that naturally alter the molecular structure of the tea?

It was quantum tunneling!
We live in a computer simulation!
It was all a trick!
I hallucinated!
Aliens!

And on the list goes.

bossmanham said...

The only weakness I see in this debate format is Krauss' inability to see his fallacious reasoning. Academic debates have a long history and seem to me to be one of the better ways to present the ideas in a point-counter point way.

Shackleman said...

Ms. Ana,

"What I would like an atheist to explain, is how he would distinguish positive evidence for God, from God-of-the-gaps based "evidence" for God."

When I was an atheist, the only evidence I would accept is a "burning bush." And, in all candor, even then I would probably still have looked for natural explanations first. I could have hallucinated, been drugged, had a psychotic episode, etc. If one has a mental or emotional block, then any evidence, even burning bushes, can be dismissed out of hand.

David B Marshall said...

Bossmanham: I agree -- I like debates, and enjoyed this one. I haven't seen Harris vs. Craig yet, though.

You can read books by the principals, but a lot of times they just talk past one another. It's good to go at one another directly, and get answers. ("You want answers?" "I think I'm entitled!")

One of my regrets is we Americans are not trained in the use of wit as a rhetorical weapon. How much more fun these debates could be.

Tim said...

I agree that a debate format is not the best place to hash out any really complicated issue. Debates are agonistic contests.

That said, by any reasonable measure, Krauss got owned, and Craig's "dismissive" post-mortem was nothing less than the sober truth. Krauss's response to Craig linked in the OP is simply disgraceful and shows that he is completely out of his depth. Examples of this are available on request -- but it looks like most participants in this thread have found double handfuls of them already.

Jason Pratt said...

Heh, bowing to David for his rabbinic-style quotation from that scene in A Few Good Men! {g}

(The far more famous quote from that same climactic exchange is, "You want the truth? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" Although on further thought, I doubt David was trying to ref that obliquely--he isn't the kind of person to think of sceptics that way, to his credit.)

JRP

Anonymous said...

I'll take this as yet another shining example of scientistic arrogance, wherein scientists firmly believe that they and they alone are the brave souls who see reality rightly through the all-powerful lens of mathematical physics, whereas philosophers just "play around with words and syllogisms." By virtue of the scientific method, their eyes are free from all illusion. The supernatural/natural divide is fatuous. The world is a paradox! 2+2=5!

Ana said...

"While it can be difficult to draw a clear, bright, universal line, most of the skeptics I have communicated with can describe events they would find convincing."

Yes, skeptics offer examples that they say would convince them (e.g. the infamous example of amputees being healed)of supernatural causation or agency, there is certainly no shortage of examples skeptics will cite. However, in the absence them of providing a criteria, "convincing" examples are a matter of subjective perception. Such that, what phenomenon would convince one skeptic, may not convince another. (And yet both might think the other unreasonable, "You're being utterly incredulous and that's preventing you from accepting a pretty obvious evidence" vs " It is not obvious. You're proving your gullibility, by having fallen for one of those God-of-gaps arguments." )

"if my tea is suddenly converted to wine in my glass,"...

(To borrow from Crude)

... " I hallucinated !"


(To be fair, I want to put out there, that I am not suggesting that many skeptics in practice would reject such things as tea turned to wine as evidence.

But in accepting it as evidence, that would be in spite of the God-of-the-gaps principle. For the God-of-the-gaps principle is always readily available, for him that wants to use it, and it would apply just as much to your example of the tea, as it does to the universe.)

steve said...

The bottom line is that no matter how often Craig wins, he loses. The usual excuse is that when he wins a debate with an atheist, that's just because he's a better debater. Not because he was right. Not because he had the best of the argument. Had the facts on his side. No, couldn't be that.

But then he debated Hitchens, who is, by all accounts, a masterful debater in his own right. Yet Craig won that debate, too.

In that case, the excuse wasn't: Craig won because he's such a great debater. No, it had to be: Hitchens was unprepared, or Hitchens was off his game that night.

One Brow said...

How do you know the tea doesn't contain nanobots that naturally alter the molecular structure of the tea?

Just thought I'd put that out there.


When nanobots exist that can perform those rearrangments, can survive being boiled, and exist freely as opposed to a laboratory, that would make it a consideration. Until, you've simply moved the bar for homogenity from the change in the tea to the sudden appearance of nanobots from nowhere.

One Brow said...

Crude said...
Is that really the line Ana is asking for? "

No, it is not what was requested. I said a clear bright line would be difficult to draw to agree that it is difficult to fulfill her request.

MICHIO KAKU: The fundamental problem of cosmology is that the laws of physics as we know them break down at the instant of the Big Bang.

In identical conditions, we would expect those laws we are comfortable with to break down in the same way again. Homogeneity doesn't say that you can extrapolate all natural laws to all conditions, but that all equivalent conditions would obey the same laws.

BenYachov said...

>When nanobots exist that can perform those rearrangments, can survive being boiled, and exist freely as opposed to a laboratory, that would make it a consideration.

Good to see you read Hard Science Fiction(i.e Science fiction that tries to say close to known science...rotating Spaceships since there is no artificial gravity plates...no going faster than the speed of light...dry nanotech that obeys the laws of physics etc).

>Until, you've simply moved the bar for homogenity from the change in the tea to the sudden appearance of nanobots from nowhere.

The point is tea to whine need not have a supernatural explanation.

BenYachov said...

OTOH what if the Nanobots where ClarkTec?

One Brow said...

Ana said...
Such that, what phenomenon would convince one skeptic, may not convince another.

Since skepticism itself has little unifying dogma other than doubt, how could it be otherwise?

And yet both might think the other unreasonable ...

I have witnessed and participated in such arguments. You'd be surprised how often people can see each others points.

"if my tea is suddenly converted to wine in my glass,"...

(To borrow from Crude)

... " I hallucinated !"


Then it wasn't converted to wine, after all? I agree that if there was no break of homogeneity, I would not be impressed by the break of homogeneity.

But in accepting it as evidence, that would be in spite of the God-of-the-gaps principle.

I have not previously seen the use of the term "God-of-the-gaps" to describe attributing phenomena that break homogeneity to God. I generally see it used to describe phenomena that look natural, but have an unkown origin. Of course, there are some people who say the first type of event is not possible in principle, but they do not use the notion of God-of-the-gaps to describe it. Further, I've noticed that it's only the theists in this thread using the term to describe a reaction to miracles. My first thought is that this represents a mischaracterizaiton of the argument.

For the God-of-the-gaps principle is always readily available, for him that wants to use it, and it would apply just as much to your example of the tea, as it does to the universe.)

What is your defintion of the "God-of-the-gaps principle"?

One Brow said...

BenYachov said...
The point is tea to whine need not have a supernatural explanation.

Well, I often whine when I don't get my tea (sorry, couldn't resist, despite my own preponderance of typos).

You can find people committed to any position, even materialism, who will look for any explanation to reject/reinterpret evidence they feel does not comport with their understanding. They are not skeptics. I am. I would not be interested in any conceivable physical explanation. You'll find no Chopraisms coming from me.

BenYachov said...

>Well, I often whine when I don't get my tea (sorry, couldn't resist, despite my own preponderance of typos).

No worrriess.;-)

Mr Veale said...

I have to agree with Tim. I have no doubt at all that Krauss would be a wonderful lecturer. But his performance against Craig was a classic case of "expert overconfidence".
His arguments do not seem to be any more advanced than PZ Myers. He just doesn't find Theism plausible, and we're meant to buy into his argument from personal incredulity.

In many ways it is shameful that a public intellectual should neglect their duties in this way.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

Hopefully Craig will post this reply (in this form) and respond to it in some detail. Or better yet, have the team of scholars that he consulted when preparing for the debate reply.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

As it happens, I don't think the debate format hurt.

It has, after all, just revealed how empty the current academic prejudice in favour of atheism really is.

Ana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ana said...

One Brow

"What is your defintion of the "God-of-the-gaps principle"?"

In the face of a phenomenon/fact that is presently inexplicable in terms of natural causes, it is faulty logic to posit the supernatural (God or otherwise) as the cause or agent.

Sorry if my phrase "God-of-the-gaps principle" was misleading.

By it, I was referring to the objection against invoking God/ the supernatural.

Anonymous said...

I just found a Christian physicist's take on Krauss' post-debate comments and behavior and thought I'd share:

http://helives.blogspot.com/

One Brow said...

Ana said...
In the face of a phenomenon/fact that is presently inexplicable in terms of natural causes, it is faulty logic to posit the supernatural (God or otherwise) as the cause or agent.

See, to me if a phenomenon is inexplicable in terms of natural causes, there is no choice byu supernatural causes. Perhaps instead of inexplicable, you meant "has no currently supported explanation"?

Tea to wine would be inexplicable. Abiogenesis has many competing hypotheses, but with no preferred one. The first is inexplicable, the second merely unknown.

By it, I was referring to the objection against invoking God/ the supernatural.

I beleive that objection is generally raised about the unknown, not the inexplicable.

GREV said...

Crude:

Great comment:

"It reminds me of a claim I ran into recently: "The only people who find theistic arguments compelling are theists!" Well... yeah. If one finds an argument for theism compelling, then one becomes a theist. What's expected? An argument that atheists find compelling but they remain atheists?"

And great quote:

"MICHIO KAKU: The fundamental problem of cosmology is that the laws of physics as we know them break down at the instant of the Big Bang. Well some people say what's wrong with that, what's wrong with having the laws of physics collapse? Well for a physicist this is a disaster. All our lives we've dedicated to the proposition that the Universe obeys knowable laws, laws that can be written down in the language of mathematics and here we have the centrepiece of the Universe itself, a missing piece beyond physical law."

Made me think that maybe Lawrence should have had his essay graded and corrected before thinking it was good enough to post online.

Anonymous said...

During the debate, Dr. Krauss flat-out asseverated that Christianity is incompatible with science, and I immediately thought of theoretical cosmologist George F.R. Ellis when I heard this, a man possessing a mathematical caliber on the same plane as that of Stephen Hawking (in fact, he and Hawking co-wrote a very mathematical dense book on theoretical cosmology).

I don't want to be too haste in my judgment, but Krauss is increasingly beginning to strike me as being a second-rate physicist at best, whose mind - and thereby whose "science" - has been irrevocably polluted with anti-theistic presuppositions about reality.

Maybe I'm wrong in my assessment here, but there's absolutely no doubting the man's recent (and deeply repulsive) intellectual dishonesty, especially since such intellectual dishonesty is practically a prerequisite for posting at cesspools like Pharyngula and RichardDawkins.net.