William Lane Craig Debate

Last week I participated in a dialogue with Princeton philosopher Hans Halvorson, sponsored by the Veritas Forum here at Caltech. We were talking about “physics and philosophy,” but the primary issue was theism and naturalism — Hans’s research specialty is philosophy of physics, especially quantum field theory, but he’s also a theist and often writes about science and religion. It was a fruitful discussion (I like to think), as we ended up agreeing about many points, even though we started from very different premises. He agreed with me, for example, that purported fine-tuning of cosmological parameters isn’t a very good argument in favor of the existence of an intelligent designer.

Next month I’ll be doing something related, although under quite different circumstances. On February 21 I’ll be debating William Lane Craig at the Greer-Heard Forum, an event sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It will actually be a two-day event; a debate between Craig and me on Friday night, and follow-ups on Saturday from other speakers — Tim Maudlin and Alex Rosenberg for Team Naturalism, Robin Collins and James Sinclair for Team Theism. Registration is open! I believe the whole thing will be streamed live online, and it will certainly be recorded for posterity. [Update: Here is the video.]

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William Lane Craig (or WLC as we call him in the business) is of course a very well-known figure, largely for his many public debates, on theism/atheism as well as on various other specific theological issues. As far as debating goes: he’s very good at it! If his debates were being judged by a panel of experts as in an intercollegiate debate tournament, he would have a very good record indeed. This has led many people to conclude that atheists just shouldn’t debate him at all, or at least not until they have devoted 10,000 hours to learning how to be a good debater.

Daniel Dennett warned me that, as soon as word got out that I would be debating WLC, I would be deluged with opinions and unsolicited advice. Which is great! Always happy to hear other perspectives, although I don’t promise to actually follow any of the advice. I won’t reproduce the various emails I’ve received, but here are a few very different perspectives online: Jerry Coyne, Luke Barnes (and another), and Wintery Knight. (WK is relatively restrained, but others predict “pummelings,” presumably for me.)

Just so we’re clear: my goal here is not to win the debate. It is to say things that are true and understandable, and establish a reasonable case for naturalism, especially focusing on issues related to cosmology. I will prepare, of course, but I’m not going to watch hours of previous debates, nor buy a small library of books so that I may anticipate all of WLC’s possible responses to my arguments. I have a day job, and frankly I’d rather spend my time thinking about quantum cosmology than about the cosmological argument for God’s existence. If this event were the Final Contest to Establish the One True Worldview, I might drop everything to focus on it. But it’s not; it’s an opportunity to make my point of view a little clearer to a group of people who don’t already agree with me.

The guy is a very polished public speaker, and he is certainly an expert in this format. But I have the overwhelming advantage of being right. If I thought WLC were right, I would just change my views. Since I don’t, my goal is to explain why not, as clearly as possible.

The general consensus in some corners seems to be that I will be crushed. I guess we shall see.

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74 Responses to William Lane Craig Debate

  1. David Keys says:

    The probability of you winning is =>.5.
    You might want to peruse Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion as a good warm up for your debate.

  2. aoflex says:

    I’m a bit worried that you set out to defend naturalism by asserting it in the positive sense. I understand the arguments that all of the energies we’ve explored with particle colliders, and everything we have ever verifiably measured, exists in the natural world. I would advise not to make the claim (better yet: not to make any claims) that nature is all there is. Simply state that nature is all that we have seen and if WLC or anyone else has evidence for something not in nature, then present that evidence. If you explicitly make a positive claim, WLC will harp on that. Don’t. Permanently put him on the defensive by explicitly stating that you make no such absolute claims about reality. It is his job to provide evidence for a god. Repeatedly remind him (and the audience) of this.

  3. Floyd Welker says:

    Good Luck. When you get your points across and people recognize your sincerity, you’ll win, if not the debate, with those who matter.

  4. paul kramarchyk says:

    2¢ — Debates like these are pointless unless each party defines what they mean by “god” or higher power, or whatever spooky spirit they’re referring to. As minimum, introductory remarks from each side should address:
    1) Can god intervene in a supernatural way to change the course of events here on earth? Where “supernatural” means not consistent with the laws of physics.
    If no, then no need for god to explain earthly events and prayer is a useless palliative.
    If yes, give examples.

    2) What, if any, is the difference between a god that does not intervene and no god?

  5. Luke Barnes says:

    And more coming, I’m afraid :)

    The short version: I think these questions will come up.

    * Contingency: Are there exceptions to (Craig’s version of) the principle of sufficient reason within the universe? If so, discuss. If not, why think that the universe is an exception?
    * Fine-tuning: why think that life may be ubiquitous in parameter space? Why doesn’t the Boltzmann Brain problem rule out the multiverse?
    * Kalam: how does the universe escape the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) theorem’s conclusion of a beginning? Why think that quantum gravity will avoid a beginning?

    On Kalam, you said in your talk at UCSC (part 1, 22:30+) that you can’t have a boundary or singularity in the space of states in quantum mechanics, unlike classical theory. That’s a reason to think that the classical beginning of the universe won’t be there in a quantum theory.

    Is there a way to *explain* BGV? An analogy, maybe? A toy model? A succinct formulation of its assumptions? Almost certain to be relevant.

    It’ll be great!

  6. Jean-François Brouillet says:

    There is just this little remark:
    Theists want answers, out of fear.
    Atheists want questions, out of reason.

  7. Joan Hendricks says:

    Wishing you all the best in this debate! Lots of us would like to see more people in science debating religious know-nothings, but we know it’s such a waste of time for people of science to study fantasy religious arguments in order to prepare for debate. Will the debate be streamed live on the internet? Or maybe made available after?

    Dr. Carroll, any chance I could persuade you to join our Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, WI.? ffrf.org

  8. Tony says:

    Proving the existence of a God by natural means, who by definition is above and beyond that which is natural, is impossible. Why should God intervene in human events every time we get ourselves in a mess when we should be quite capable of taking care of it ourselves, if of course, we really desire to do so? The human family has to learn that we can and should care for and take care of, each other and if God jumped in and solved all of our problems, then we shall never grow. A child has to learn to crawl, walk, run and grow to adulthood, despite of all the bumps and bruises it may suffer, so it is with mankind.

  9. rocken1844 says:

    Frankly Dr Carroll I think you have identified the salient feature of the contest: Craig knows how to construct arguments, but that’s all he has. You have truth and the practice of subjecting your processes and conclusions to the examination of other professionals. Craig’s natural very human presentation is a poor substitute for the supernatural.

    Craig is not a singularity. Mormons with PhDs construct arguments, so do pro-Aliens-built-the-pyramids guys, so do Muslim and Hindu devotees construct arguments. So what? What these argument-builders never provide is a supernatural deity or space alien manifest in the here and now. Craig, with all his verbal torrents leaves us with the same result as the pro-Alien, pro-Krishna, pro-Deities-take-your-pick etc–words and nothing more. Jesus is every bit as invisible and undetectable as the next hundred deities that Craig would vociferously deny–with arguments.

  10. Tony says:

    Isn’t the teaching of the scientific method a form of brainwashing, resulting in the absolute rejection of any possible explanation that would counter the natural origin of the Universe.

  11. PatrickL says:

    Go get them! I know you’re right!
    Love your talks on youtube.

  12. Jamin Gray says:

    I’m more worried about Bill Nye’s debate vs. Ken Ham debate than your debate with WLC. Craig is a hack in my opinion. The reason I’m worried about the Nye/Ham debate is not that I think Ken Ham will have amazing arguments to disprove evolution, but simply that I don’t know that Nye will be prepared for the typical Creationist tactics in debate of just dumping endless streams of supposed weakness of Evolution and Nye won’t really be able to respond to all of them while also giving the mountain of evidence supporting the science.

  13. Dan says:

    Debates with scientist vs theist are a waste. The scientist can’t be a scientist if he invokes theist ‘faith’ in his calculations. But the theist can invoke a deity at every turn and be true to his craft. (‘The car ran over the child’ => a deity’s will, and ‘The car just missed running over the child’ => guess what?).

    The grunts and such noises emanating from the theist are just that, noises. Theists’ noises are puffery of no value, they convey no information. Dr. Carroll, you might as well be arguing with a barking dog or a shrieking monkey for all it’s worth.

    I have seen such debates before, where both debaters are scientists yet, one also a theist. Even under theses conditions the rant and noise devolves into one quoting scripture. Boooorrrriiiiiing.

    I love a good debate though. Ideas to ponder: How is the concept of a god defined? Is He (She or It) timeless? What is Time anyway? Can the human brain comprehend such questions? What preconceptions do most people have, especially theists that the scientist is not yet sure of, or challange?

    Such a debate would include a good cigar and a great scotch in a plush room, fireplace and comfortable chairs. And no hurt feelings, or fear of doing so.

  14. Kevin says:

    Nothing to add except to wish you well and enjoy yourself.

  15. BBB says:

    I know your Caroll-Chen model removes the need for an absolute beginning. However I very much hope that you dont only present your own model, but also models that you persoanlly disagree with.
    The truth about early universe cosmology is that there many different models currently on the table: bouncing comsologies in LQC,Horva gravity and string theory, CCC, Higgs cyclic, VSl, ekpyrotic, quanutm static multiverse; the list goes on.
    All of the ones I mentioned above dont have an absolute beginning.
    Even those that work on eternal inflaiton dont agree see Vilenkin vs Susskind vs Aguirre.
    What Craig says is that there is a consensus there is a beginning , whereas what there really is a huge diversity of opinions with no consensus at all and more importnalty no way to experimentally decide between them right now.
    There may be a consensus from those that dont work on issues of the very early universe and the origin of the big bang. But for those that do work on it , there is not. Of course the number of comsologists that work on this topic is very small.
    I hope you show this diveristy of opinions to the public and not just your own model, as brilliant as it is.
    But good luck Sean

  16. Anton Szautner says:

    Hmmm. Over the years Carroll has reliably made lots of statements which made sense and were persuasive to me, while very little if anything Craig has ever asserted made any sense or has been persuasive to me. So why is anybody supposed to worry that Craig is good at ‘winning debates’ again? Is how he wins them more important than what he wins them with?

    You’ll do just fine with the honest facts, Sean. No sweat. If anybody is confused into thinking that winning is the point, Craig can have them.

  17. BenM says:

    Personally speaking, I look forward to this debate and see it as another small step on the road to reason and rational informed argument between interested parties.

    It would hopefully at least present an appropriate opportunity for Carroll to put right WLC’s framing of the scientific consensus presented as ‘gospel’ when making his argument.
    Chief of these would be his claim that there currently exists a consensus in science and particularly cosmology that the universe has a defined ‘beginning’. He even dares to use the CCC model by Penrose and Gurzadyan to back himself up on this very point!
    For the best takedown of this argument alone, please see skydivephil’s latest* film on Youtube here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM47acQ7pEQ where Penrose himself confirms this assertion to be wholly wrong and misleading. (at minute 20:05)

    When Carroll debates WLC, can we at least have this made clear from the start?

    * for those who feel WLC has often gotten off scot free in debates for far too long on his various logical fallacies and fallacious arguments, skydivephil’s series of short film take-downs on Youtube is probably the best medicine out there…highly recommended.

  18. Arkenaten says:

    I am tempted to say, “Give him hell”, as anyone who defends Divine Command Theory is fully deserving of such a treat.

    As one of your contemporaries, Sheldon Cooper, might say…”Peace out.”

    Best of luck

  19. Kevin Harris says:

    Dr. Carroll, WLC respects you and has spoken positively about you in his podcasts (which I produce). I appreciate that you see past the “win or lose” aspects of many debates. Most importantly, a good exchange always sends those listening looking for more!

    I can vouch for Dr. Craig’s attitude as well. He believes the highest honor one can pay his opponent (in debate) is to present his or her views accurately and critique them honestly. I urge you to get to know him. There is a lot of unwarranted resentment and personal attacks out there that have nothing to do with discovering truth in all disciplines.

    Kevin Harris

  20. Mohammed Li says:

    Insist on speaking first!

    He will tell lies about your view points and people just believe what they hear first.

  21. Wallace Marshall says:

    Prof. Carroll–

    Sounds like you’re already laying the groundwork for the typical atheist strategy of refusing to seriously engage the arguments. Of course you have much more important things to attend to than worrying about trivial matters like preparing for an academically respectable interchange!

    I mean really, who has time to actually consider possible objections to one’s own views? And besides, it’s quite dangerous! One’s dogmatic slumber might be disturbed! One might experience an unbearable cognitive dissonance, or lose the ability to cavalierly dismiss the opponent as a mere rhetorician!

  22. Robert Vroom says:

    I would suggest studying (or getting friends/students to listen to and summarize some of his arguments). I am a theist and a huge fan of WLC. One of my biggest complaints about his debates is that his opponents rarely prepare. They are so certain that they are right that they seem to see no reason to investigate the issue from the other side, and he ends up running circles around them. I often think that I could present a better argument than his opponents, and I imagine that a number of atheists in the audience think the same thing. This ends up cheapening the experience… neither the debaters or the audience ends up being satisfied.

  23. AD says:

    Does anyone have a link to the video of this talk? Thanks!

  24. Sample says:

    Any word on who will be the corpus callosum (moderator)? That will dictate the beverage for my viewing.

    Mike

  25. VicP says:

    As they say it’s best to stick with the subject you know best and want to educate people about.

    If there is a great “unknown” you can always point out it may neither be God or physics but the human mind itself. You may want to ask him why there are so many ontological similarities in human brain “supernatural” religious experience and ask him what he “THINKS”

  26. VicP says:

    Maybe you need to bring MIT Asst Prof Jeremy England to the debate:
    https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/

  27. Tony says:

    Far too much emphasis is placed on winning, this should be a dialog with each stating his beliefs and why. These are not enemies, just two people with opposite points of view. Hopefully each will be civil and remain friendly to the end and I trust that’s the way it will be and it will be. Even Christians disagree on many beliefs, some believe the Pope is the Anti Christ, yet somehow still manage to get along, at least now that the middle ages are over. Northern Ireland being one exception, however that is mostly political in nature though still stupid. So it’s not just Christians versus Atheist. Ah yes, the human family and we should be family, but as it is in many families, there is always disagreement.

  28. Mark P says:

    If the Wikipedia entry is accurate, this will not be a debate, strictly speaking, although it may end up just that in practical terms. I would not dream of debating someone who believes in god about the existence of god (no appetite for headaches from brick walls), but I would be willing to state the accepted understanding of the nature of the universe. As the bible says, “he who has ears, let him hear.”

    I’m sure you are aware that any organization that is in good stead with the Southern Baptist Convention does not usually harbor people with open minds about cosmology. I say this as a matter of fact, not as a criticism. I attended a respected college that was associated with the SBC for one year and found it a pleasant environment. Then the new SBC took over and turned a conservative educational institution into a bible school that requires a statement of fundamentalist faith for biology teachers. The primary purpose of NOBTS is evangelism, not rational discourse or even education. My advice (worth ever penny you pay for it) is to just say your piece. You can convince someone with an open mind, and you can never convince someone without an open mind.

  29. Jared Guthrie says:

    Wow! I’m excited. I live about a half hour from there. I’m about 99% sure I’m going to attend this debate. I will attempt to bring my wife who’s a believer.

  30. Ben Farmer says:

    I would like to throw my support behind the commenters who request you smack down WLC’s assertion that the universe (possibly he even means multiverse) must have a beginning, or more strongly a “first cause”. He often claims some “Borde-Vilenkin-Guth singularity theorem” as proof of this, which seems like bollocks to me, and it would be nice if you publicly set him straight on the nature of this theorem, if possible.

    You are also well-positioned to destroy his logic-based arguments that a ‘first cause’ must exist, given your keenness on the nature of time, so I look forward to what you have to say about this too! My counter has always been that our current ideas and intuitions about cause and effect may very well be totally totally wrong at a fundamental level, and I am interested to see if you agree.

    Of course maybe there is a first cause, but his assertions that the only logically possible first cause is a “transcendent mind” that he identifies as God is where his argument gets really ridiculous, and I don’t know what you can possibly say to this, except that it is a non-sequitur.

    On top of that, if you can discredit his use of fine-tuning arguments as evidence for God that would also make me happy :). But your post suggests you have this covered already :).

    Finally, to paul kramarchyk: WLC believes literally in the resurrection of Christ, so it is safe to say his God is quite capable of dramatic supernatural intervention. He often goes on for quite a long time about the historical evidence for this event, but hopefully this debate won’t go there since a historian is needed to deal with those arguments, not a cosmologist. Also those arguments are amazingly boring…

  31. Mike D says:

    My humble advice:

    Please, please do not agree to the typical academic-debate format that Craig favors (20, 10 and 5 minute presentations). It inevitably leads to the two interlocutors mostly just talking past one another, and it plays to Craig’s strengths as a rhetorician. Worse, it’s damn near impossible for an audience to keep track of all the threads that pop up in 20 minutes of uninterrupted stumping.

    Far better to stick with a more conversational format. It takes away Craig’s greatest advantage (his experience as a debater) and in my estimation would keep the audience from being inundated with arguments. Plus, it minimizes the adversarial nature of debates, which just reinforces the “us vs. them” mentality.

  32. Nick says:

    My advice to Sean for what it’s worth…

    Ask WLK to explain in detail what a superstition is. Why have there been thousands of gods in history believed by almost all humans all over the planet? How come these populations have transmitted their beliefs from one generation to the next with a very high success rate, like 98%, even though it is obvious most of these beliefs were obviously wrong. Is the brain really good at detecting brainwashing?

    Then you will get to the fact that indoctrination in christianity is very similar to endoctrination by any superstition, that is childhood endoctrination, various rituals during the day/week/year/life which continue the brainwashing, gurus whose purpose is to endoctrinate, etc…

    Finaly, it gets on my nerves when WLC claims that philosophers have settled the debate that god exists. According to a recent poll more than 85% of philosophers don’t believe in god. I even remember you writing an article about that. So if he comes up with that ridiculous argument, don’t miss him lol.

    Anyways I have watched several debates with him. He seems stiff at first but he is actually quite a sympathetic guy. He’s just completely brainwashed and want to desperately believe his nonsense. Also, having been a major defender of religion for so long he will never admit he was wrong.

  33. ph. will says:

    I say kudos to you Sean. It is an intellectual honest endeavor to let the conversation be open and transparent, and let all sides decide for themselves.

    It is certainly a sharp contrast to the likes of a Jerry Coyne, who positively trembles at the mere mention of having to defend his beliefs publicly. One truly must wonder about the foundations of his utter paranoia. Even questioning him on his own website sets off panic alarms and immediate damage control in the form of instant deletions. If he is so sure he is right, why is he always so darn scared. I respect that you don’t harbor his same phobias.

    I will look forward to hearing both sides of a lively discussion. I appreciate that your desire is not to win, but to simply present your side.

  34. John says:

    I wouldn’t be too worried about the debate. It is not like either one of you would actually know for a 100% fact what the correct answer is anyways. You will most likely go away from it feeling that their beliefs where biased from the start and that is why you won or lost.

    They say that particle accelerators mimic the Big Bang. Then the only thing they actually see in them is light. God is the light, and the only way you could convince me otherwise is to prove that light had nothing to do with the Big Bang. Until we can prove what caused the Big Bang, I think we all would just be completely out of luck trying to prove anything one way or the other. I could accept this much as being true about the Big Bang, there was darkness and then there was light. There is no reason why we should deny that “theory”.

  35. Hi Sean, you and your readers might be interested in my free book at my site http://thehumandesign.net or direct from the cloud at http://sdrv.ms/1a4HBbk

    The design is pure geometry reconciling particle forces and biological formations rather than using math equations. You will find geometry is sufficient for an explanation linked to all known fundamental ‘facts’ (the most basic). Factually I am not adventurous, but my logic extending from basic facts using Universality – application of universal principles – is entirely new.

    It’s not theistic at all. Beliefs are hypotheses based on secure knowledge to extend it. One cannot even define God based on knowledge to test that definition as a hypothesis. He’s in a logical limbo pending miracles and otherwise ignored.

    My book has nothing to do with spirituality, but it soundly answers anything WLC would have to say in justification of spirituality by closing the gaps that cause spiritualists to go beyond science.

  36. NR says:

    One potential problem with Aoflex’s advice is that Craig can make positive arguments, too, and many of them are related to historical texts that require some familiarity to be debated effectively. So, simply trying to shift the burden of proof to him is tricky unless one can comfortably address the history. You can always fall back on the implausibility of miracles out of the historical context in which those miracles were claimed, but this is not nearly as effective as it would be given some familiarity with the historical scholarship.

    The following is an example of such a debate centered on historical scholarship, and then there’s an intriguing (although misleading and ultimately fallacious, in my opinion) discussion of probability theory as applied to those historical texts. It’s fun reading, and even though Sean has made his point that he’s not going to devote large amounts of time reviewing previous debates, this is highly relevant and also interesting in its own right.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman

  37. piledHighAndDeep says:

    I really liked the discussion with Hans Halvorson. His attitude and approach to the questions led me to believe that even though our premises are orthogonal, this is a man from whom I could learn something other than mere rhetoric or arguments. Without such a respect it is hard to see how a discussion can be of any use. Although his very last comment that modern scientists are the new priests was silly (I would like to think it was in jest, but I couldn’t tell). What was however very interesting is his thorough debunking of the theistic fine tuning “argument” something that I had independently thought of. It is unfortunate that naturalists do not make it. The slight disappointment of this discussion was that although Sean’s answers were clear and agreeable, he seemed a little disengaged in comparison.

  38. piledHighAndDeep says:

    I am disappointed by Sean’s comment that he is not going to the debate with William Craig with the intent of winning. I completely agree that debates are useless, but then why go to a debate anyway? If the goal is to lecture the christian audience, surely he could get invited to give a lecture. In that sense I echo the sentiment of Vroom above, with Lawrence Kraus being the perfect example.

    I believe Sean’s assumptions about the christian audience to be unjustified, they are not going to the debates to learn about Sean’s worldview, they are going to this event for validation of their own. Everyone needs it, but the success of science is validation enough for the naturalists. The educated young christians are marginalized in the intellectual community and do not find intellectual communion with Sarah Palin’s “real Americans”. They are expecting to see a “pummeling” to validate their team choice. Going with the intent of not winning is handing them a false sense of vindication, which does nothing to actually help them to take off their blinders but only entrench them in their worldview.

    The solution I think is to address each argument of William Craig but present it to the christian audience in the context of what kind of conversations they can expect with their atheist frenemies (after all that’s what all this is about). Lacking William Craig’s debating skills they’ll have to think for themselves. That’s the best that can be expected.

  39. piledHighAndDeep says:

    So this part is my humble contribution for Sean to chew on since he is inviting other perspectives:

    All arguments from science are god of the gaps arguments: that is sensible only if there’s reason to believe that the gap can not and will not close, ever! Given history of science, naturalists are optimistic about the future and do not see any reason to assume that the gaps are unfillable.

    Premise one of the cosmological argument: anything the begins to exist must have a cause that is necessarily naturalistic . Don’t agree? Please provide an example of a supernaturalistic cause. If the universe beginning to exist is logically different from the omelette or tiger (examples provided by WC) beginning to exist, then these examples can’t be used to inspire WC’s version of the premise. On the other hand, the above version of the premise is perfectly justifiable (at least for WC’s audience).

    Also creatio ex nihilo assumes there is no material cause, but only efficient cause. Even if Kraus’s vacuum isn’t nothing, it would be the material cause which is not in contest in the premise. The virtual particle creation in QFT lacks any efficient cause. The laws of physics don’t cause the universe to act in some way, the laws are a map that we use to navigate the territory (this idea is from quine’s website, think the idea sounds very persuasive).

    fine tuning is already debunked even by theists like Halvorson. Basically, fine tuner is inconsistent with omnipotence. What can be added is that since the WC crowd thinks disembodied minds are obviously possible, then no matter what the conditions of the universe it couldn’t be said to be inhospitable to disembodied minds.

    Moral argument: Euthyphro. WC pretends that christians have escaped Euthyphro. The argument boils down to good = god’s nature = not arbitrary! But why not ? Absolutely nothing illogical in god’s nature being mix of good and bad. What kind of a world would such a god create? exactly like the one we see.

  40. I see my invitation to read my new book (above) has been voted behind a screen. Nevertheless I invite you to consider it as a reasonable explanation of ‘First Cause” which is the entire point of the book. I appears you can open the screen to read my offending post so I won’t repeat the download address here.

    Clearly (I think) something from nothing is a stretch, and multiverses seem to avoid the point of why anything at all, although it might answer why this arrangement rather than another to our laws. But laws would be the starting place, and tracking their universalities – to the extent you use the most universal laws – is the means to arrive at an ‘overview’.

    I think an overview is possible, even in when Relativity prevents an actual view of a universe except by using a curved two-dimensional and temporal surface experienced by us as our three-dimensional and temporal universe. I have my doubts about pure Isotropic expansion and that consequence of it, extending from and approved by Einstein in the FLRW Metric, but assuming a totality that expands to whatever regime, there is an arrow of time AND causation.

    I write about the Arrow in my book using a metaphysical scheme in which nothing is create or destroyed, and expansion simply proceeds from original compression existing infinitely with a potential to expand by conversion of rest mass to energy. It expands linearly in direct opposition to the linear distribution of its gravitational fields across it. It would not be “frozen” but it would be an original intact state relying on something as vague as pure symmetry to expand by a neutralizing wave from its centre. You will see in my book how causation follow inevitably sequentially from that event in a neutralized universe for aggregation of decaying neutrons eventually into every compound in nature – including humans.

    Interestingly, I rely on the randomness of Pi in geometry, in locating centre from which to emanate a wave as the mans of keeping it intact but allowing it to neutralize. Angles to photons and gravitons in direct contact by shearing around a centre coordinate might approximate a centre using Pi within their angles. The analogy is with finding a sequence within Pi that somehow “stands for” a centre without Pi ever having an end or obvious sequence. A “satisfactory” sequence is found, with all the vagary and randomness that implies . How’s that for logic and invention?

  41. LW says:

    WLC always asserts that since the universe must have been created by God, God is therefore good. I have never quite followed the leap from “created by God” to “God is good”. Even if the universe were fine-tuned for humanity, how would that imply the goodness of its creator? The Roman Colosseum was fine-tuned as well, but does that prove that the Romans were good to the poor creatures who struggled and died in its arena?

    Also, WLC typically asserts something along the lines of “God gives us objective morality; without God, all morality is subjective.” But surely he, an educated man, recognizes that there is no single religion whose moral values are consistent, either across its sects or throughout its history. Surely he’s noticed that some Christian sects vilify homosexuality and other sects sanctify same-sex marriages. Surely he admits that, while slavery is taken for granted in the Bible, modern Christians find the practice abhorrent. Does he perceive these facts? And how does he square them with his assertion of absolute morality?

    Since I myself have not yet been invited to debate WLC, perhaps you, Prof Carroll, could please ask him about some of these things for me. (And if WLC launches his “atheist[s] can’t know whether rape is moral or not” offensive, perhaps you could push back on that, too.)

  42. Fred Cehak says:

    Hello Sean,
    WLC has wheeled out his 5 reasons for the existence of God for decades now, no opponent has ever said anything to change his view one bit, no matter how often they point out his selective logic, cherry picked science ( like AGW deniers ) and selective reading of the Bible.
    Here are a few rebuttals:
    1. Ontological argument- origin of the universe
    A word game that does’nt support the existence of a God or that it was the cause. Also could be used to ‘prove’ existence of anything.
    2. Fine tuning arguement
    Another parlour game, its like a sales technique called incremental commitment,were step by step you are convinced that you must buy into that time-share apartment !.
    Natural selection explains it, a chicken and egg argument, a God not proven to be involved.
    3. Objective Moral Values
    Maybe there are no OMVs
    Or, if there are, nothing to do with a God
    Why do theists think they have a monopoly on morals ?
    4. Historical facts for the resurrection
    No eyewitnesses, earliest accounts written after min 60 years of oral retellings , ie Chinese whispers .
    Its hard enough proving what happened yesterday ( hence our legal industry )let alone 2000 years ago given all the vested interests and rewritings of the good book.
    5. Immediate experience of God
    So what ? , even WLC sometimes leaves this one out.
    I agree with Mick D who recommends avoiding that traditional alternating format which WLC is so good at and instead break the pattern with direct conversation .
    I find WLC to be most contemptable on the question of suffering, he seems to know God’s mind on so many matters yet on this issue we would be arrogant to presuppose the mind of God who obviously allows sensless suffering because of some benefit down the line, and anyway , they get to be with God which is the main aim.
    WLC is best summed up by a quote from his book, Reasonable Faith:
    ‘ emotional faith is the way to God, not intellect or reason ‘ —you cannot win against such a person , you may as well debate a young earth creationist.
    Good Luck

  43. Ross says:

    Surprised at the level of unwarranted vitriol against Craig. I wonder if it’s because religion isn’t “supposed to” employ reason in the eyes of many of its critics.

    Best of luck to Sean Carroll. I hope he makes the debate compelling and thoughtful.

  44. Roxee says:

    WLC like to argue for the existance of the Deist God, which isn’t the God he believes in. If you can turn the debate into a discussion of the existance of his God it might make for an interesting discussion. After all noone can prove/disprove the existance of the Deists God, but WLC’s God is another matter. Have fun!!

  45. Jeremy says:

    Hi Sean,
    You said on twitter that WLC accepts evolution, well not really.
    He always says he accept evolution, but he has a personal definition of evolution, that comes down to: a impossibly slow process that God “potentiated” every now and again to get the results we see all around us today. And that’s before we get to humans, we are seen to be far-far too impossible to have evolved “so quickly” and thus definitive evidence of God. See:

  46. John Hill says:

    There’s a story about Sydney Smith, the Whig MP:

    Passing through a bye-street behind St. Paul’s, Sydney Smith heard two women abusing each other from opposite houses. “They will never agree,” said he, “for they argue from different premises.”

  47. David lau says:

    Sean, I am on your side as always, and I know you are right and you certainly have that advantage and therefore you will win the debate. My bet is on you.

  48. Tom Clark says:

    Great that Sean’s objective in this debate is to make a reasonable, positive case for naturalism, which (agreeing with aoflex above) is the best but defeasible evidence-based hypothesis about reality going. Were evidence to come in that reality is divided into the natural vs. supernatural, which I think is conceivable, we committed empiricists would change our minds about naturalism. Humility before the facts as best as we can ascertain them, http://www.naturalism.org/Close_encounters.htm

  49. Mason Colbert says:

    I doubt Dr. Carroll will be “crushed” though I suppose for some that will depend on how you make use of the debate format. For example, as much as I like Dr. Lawrence Krauss, his debate performance was not very good – mostly because he wasted too much time trying to lecture to the audience rather than addressing Dr. Craig’s points.

    Yeah, I would recommend not doing that. If Dr. Craig misrepresents some theory in cosmology then call him out on it!!!

    Additionally, I would avoid the use of the word “nothing” (again, much like Krauss does) because I would say it strikes me as highly misleading statement at best.

    I also have to second the comment above- get Dr. Craig on the defensive about his cosmology. His tactics are usually always: Display facts x,y, and z- demand the atheist provide an alternative, and then debunk or raises doubts about the alternatives- therefore victory for God!

    Don’t fall for this trap! Remember that Dr. Craig strategically makes use of his time to make response difficult for the skeptic.

  50. Pathific says:

    I think it is quite impossible for scientists and theologians to discuss cosmology, because they could never find a common ground to argue with. Scientists would adhere to natural laws and scientific findings, while fully aware of the fallabilism of science. Theologians on the other hand resort to metaphysical claims and beliefs and discredit the scientific fallabilism as lack of conviction. If God is a supernatural being, how is it ever possible to justify his existence through natural means?

    It’s hard to disprove a God of the gaps, which is by definition unknown to us, so the concept of God would dodge any assumptions we make about him. Yet the biggest vulnerability of the concept of God are its innate paradoxes: If God created all existence, then did he create himself? If yes, how? If no, then what created God? If God’s existence was not created and an uncreated existence is possible, then why is creation ever necessary to existence? Can an omnipotent God create a rock too heavy for himself to lift? Can an atemporal (timeless) God create a temporal universe? If God designs what will happen to the universe even to the miniscule details, how can there be free will? If God is omnibenevolent and omnipotent, then why does he allow evil to exist? If God loves us and wants us to believe in him, why doesn’t he show himself to us more clearly or speak with us directly? Can God ever change his mind and act against his own will? If he can, how can his will then be the absolute and universal truth? If he can’t, is God then subject to his own laws, loosing his free will to them?

    As to the cause of the universe, it would be interesting to take a look at Aggripa’s trilemma which arises when asking for the final justification. The impossiblity to further ask for “why” or “before” if there were a begin or a first cause seems to contradict our common sense. But an infinite regress in causation would also undermine our sense of knowledge, so do circular beliefs. Science traces back causation to its earliest roots as far as possible, but it reaches its limits with the limits of the currently observable. What is then beyond is a seemingly an infinite gap of unknowing, so any God of the gap, be it personal or deistic or some other metaphysical force(s), would do the trick to cover up our limitations in knowledge. Apologists intend to install God or his attributes as an axiom to our world, so they appeal to the “self-evidence” of the existence of God (argument by intuition). Cosmological arguments used by apologists are most of the time logically valid, but they hide all their controversies behind their premises. In fact, these premises already preassume the existence of God or some attributes of God they believe in, so these arguments are prone to circularity.

  51. I realize I’m a bit late to the party, but I think you’ll do well here. If you had the time, there’s some friendly unsolicited advice I wrote up for you at my blog that I’d be thrilled if you would take the time to at least read and consider: http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2014/02/cheering-for-sean-carroll.html

    Good luck!

  52. Richard says:

    Tony,

    You wrote: “Isn’t the teaching of the scientific method a form of brainwashing, resulting in the absolute rejection of any possible explanation that would counter the natural origin of the Universe.”

    On what basis could one assert that scientific method would “reject any possible explanation that would counter the natural origin of the Universe” — provided that the natural origin of the Universe were a false hypothesis? Do you assert that scientific method *must* give false results under a contrary hypothesis? If so, please explain why you think this is the case.

  53. Daniel Shawen says:

    The much ballyhooed William Lane Craig vs Richard Dawkins debate (that didn’t happen) was evidently the inspiration for Clint Eastwood debating an empty chair in lieu of President Barack Obama.

    While no one should in general be ignored or chastised for their motivations for doing either science or philosophy, folks like William Lane Craig frankly make it difficult not to.

    Someone like Craig will expound ad nauseum on debate points like Newcomb’s Paradox as opposed to something more concrete philosophically and mathematically, like the Monte Hall problem. Craig’s idea of a great philosopher was someone like J.M.E. McTaggert. McTaggert’s irrelevant ideas about time and causation will be his center rather than ideas from Einstein. Russell’s paradox. McTaggert was a philosophical lightweight compared to Russell (who was expulsed from Trinity from the influence of anti-pacifists like McTaggert). So, who would even be interested in their philosophy?

    For people like Craig, God is the beginning, end, and cause of all things, and Richard Dawkins was right about one thing. Although Craig would call it a “debate”, few spectators would fail to notice, Craig’s deeply held religious philosophy could hardly be characterized as something that is open to change from rational discourse such as that which would normally occur in something most would identify as a “debate”.

  54. Kurt Lewis Helf says:

    Check out any of the “Reasonable Counts” podcasts on WLC’s debating tactics; he’s not so tough and rather vacuous. Also, Lawrence Krause gave him a right drubbing in their last meeting. Check out the vid on YouTube. Cheers!

  55. Kurt Lewis Helf says:

    That’s “Reasonable Doubts” podcast. Sorry!

  56. Hej Sean,

    I think you are going to do brilliant in the coming debate with Bill. I tried to explain to my fellow Christian theists that debates like this is not about winning and losing, but exchanging ideas about how the world is viewed from two different worldview.

    I am going to listen to both Bill and you not to first and foremost agree or disagree, but to simply understand.

    I enjoyed the line about blind men touching the parts of the elephant on your twitter subtitle would have long know it was an elephant if they talked together about it.

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  58. DanielC says:

    I appreciate your sunny side up disposition Sean but I think very few people on either side of this debate want to watch to learn about the other’s World-view, most people watch this and previous similar debates (speaking from personal experience here) to be reassured that their World-view is the right one and so I must cast the pernicious aspersion that you’re being naive in agreeing to take part in this event. After all these debates are mainly just silly rhetorical games and if you’re not playing them to win then what’s the point in playing them at all? Surely a lecture format would be better for informing people about naturalism than a debate format. Furthermore, however earnestly WLC believes in his arguments the fact is they’re nothing more than superfluous to his in Christianity because as he’s already confessed his own subjective “experience” of the holy spirit is the centrepiece to his worldview. Moreover the empirical evidence from his dozens upon dozens of previous debates shows he’s going to use every debating trick he can to win this debate. Correlating that with my own deeply held suspicion that most people are most of the time credulous fools, my prediction is that this debate will do more good for the Super-Naturalists than it will for us Naturalists (I’m on your side in case it wasn’t clear). Hopefully you can me prove me wrong.

    All that being said I think the key area of argument is going to be around conciousness, I imagine with you being a cosmologist most people are going to be anticipating you attacking the KCA and WLC defending it. However since this is a naturalism vs supernaturalism debate and the biggest hole in naturalism is around theories of the mind (WLC is smart enough to choose his battleground, he’s not likely to try and debate you on cosmology, your area of expertise for long), WLC’s going to want to claim some sort of brain/mind dualism and use all sorts of sophistry around the notion of “aboutness” as evidence for supernaturalism.

  59. Shannon Byrd says:

    I myself am a Christian Theist; I look forward to this debate because WLC displays an articulate and intelligent Christian worldview. I think it will be an interesting dialogue, but I think Sean Carrols presuppositions towards epistemology will hinder him as his views are merely assertions based his presupposition (circular reasoning).

  60. Rick Ryals says:

    He’ll get you on the multiverse and the weakness of the science that is used to call this a counter-argument to fine-tuning… just like I do, except that I rely on the strongest argument of the three choices, “necessity”. The difference is that I win.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ArwDd4wK4o

    Oh, and yeah, winning and losing most definitely does matter, or the culture war is just another figment of your multiverse…

  61. Craig once made the following admission: “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa”.

    Does one need to know more about this character?

  62. Brad Ericson says:

    Don’t let WLC substitute argument for data. This is what the “Reasonable Faith” group does on our campus all the time. I like to call it philosophical flim-flamming (which they hate me calling it that). Any way, hard science always trumps made up arguments, at least where it counts. Good luck!!

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  64. Ryan says:

    Looking forward to this one. Naturalists do not fare well in debates with WLC because they typically ignore fundamental philosophy and can’t craft or defend valid reasons for their beliefs (see almost every comment on this message board so far). The odds should be more even this time as Dr. Carroll is not only a brilliant scientist but also minored in Philosophy. That is to say, if there is a chance for a materialist to score points in a debate against WLC, this is it.

    If you want to create the appearance of winning this debate against WLC: stay away from the issues, engage in ad hominem and introduce red herrings frequently. It is sobering how little sarcasm I am intending.

  65. Steven says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    Looking at this for what it is, you will probably lose the debate. Craig is a masterful debater and philosopher, which, I’m sure you know, allows him to identify key premises in his opponent’s arguments and lay them to waste. What’s worse, if you waste time saying something irrelevant to the truth of a premise, Craig will dismiss it as irrelevant and you will lose precious time.

    Therefore I think you would do well to clearly state your premises and how they lead to your conclusions. If you ASSUME naturalism from the get-go, Craig will call you out on it. So get yourself a handful of arguments for naturalism (perhaps enlist Rosenberg’s help with this). Then give your cosmological model and show that it undercuts Craig’s premise that the universe began to exist.

    A warning – Craig may point out how your model doesn’t really restore an eternal past. For both arrows of time are finite, at any point. Though the “past” arrow is growing toward infinity, it is only potentially infinite and not actually infinite, just like the “future” arrow. So there is still a beginning to the universe. He may call you on this so you’d better prepare a response.

    Good luck.

  66. Ant says:

    No need to spend countless hours watching dozens of WLC debates. Craig’s presentations, arguments and counterarguments are repeated almost verbatim throughout his videotaped debating history. If you’ve seen one Craig debate, you’ve seen them all, as far as the content goes. Even his testimony about his religious conversion is heavily rehearsed word for word right down to the cheeky jokes and personal anecdotes.

    I’ve only ever heard him abandon this familiar courtroom style on a few occasions when he’s agreed to a less formal debating format (oftentimes, he “loses” such debates, particularly when they’re free-form and/or conversational). He definitely doesn’t strike me as a spontaneous and flexible thinker/speaker. In fact, his extreme rigidity is probably his greatest weakness as a debater

    Luck to you!

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  69. Doug Gibbons says:

    Good Luck. Go into this debate understanding that GOD is NOTHING! Both from a physics point of view and a theological point of view. Once you define “GOD” and “Nothing” and what “is”, then you will see the equation is “right”.

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  71. Ahmad Muslim says:

    you are a good scientist but a lousy Philosopher , you will lose

  72. Humanity Akbar says:

    Ahmad Muslim,

    hey, one can’t be good at *everything*, right? That’d be soooo boring…

    and losing and winning are so last century, m`dear…engaging and enjoying each other`s company, sharing in the common human experience, denying easy cynicism and pessimism is the new black

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