God and Cosmology Debate with W.L. Craig

Tomorrow (Friday) is the big day: the debate with William Lane Craig at the Greer-Heard Forum, as I previously mentioned. And of course the event continues Saturday, with contributions from Tim Maudlin, Alex Rosenberg, Robin Collins, and James Sinclair.

I know what you’re asking: will it be live-streamed? Yes indeed!

[Update: Here is the video.]

Fun starts at 8pm Eastern, 5pm Pacific. (Corrected from earlier goof.) The format is an opening 20-minute speech by WLC and me (in that order), followed by 12-minute rebuttals, and then 8-minute closing statements, and concluding with 40 minutes of audience questions. Official Twitter hashtag is #GreerHeard14, which I believe you can use to submit questions for the Q&A. I wouldn’t lie to you: I think this will be worth watching.

You can find some of WLC’s thoughts on the upcoming event at his Reasonable Faith website. One important correction I would make to what you will read there: Craig and his interlocutor Kevin Harris interpret my statement that “my goal here is not to win the debate” as a strategy to avoid dealing with WLC’s arguments, or as “a way to lower expectations.” Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.

Feel free to organize viewing parties, celebrations, discussion groups, what have you. There should definitely be a drinking game involved (it’ll be happy hour on the West Coast, you lightweights), but I’ll leave the details to you. Suggested starting points: drink every time WLC uses a syllogism, or every time I show an equation. But be sure to have something to eat, first.

If it seems worthwhile, I will follow-up with thoughts after the debate, and try to answer questions. Let’s have some fun.

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167 Responses to God and Cosmology Debate with W.L. Craig

  1. Steve says:

    I can’t even describe accurately how excited I am for this debate.

    “What are you doing Friday night, Steve?”

    “Oh nothing…just watching the most highly anticipated debate of the year between a Christian apologist and a cosmologist.”

  2. Matt says:

    Beware the Gish Gallop, a frequent debate tactic among creationists:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

  3. “The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced.Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”

    I honestly want that to be true. I am not saying your case will be weak, on the contrary, I think you will make a very strong case. But I would not expect to work on every theist on the audience… that remembered me one great quote from Gregory House (Tv character): “rational arguments don’t usually work with religious people; otherwise there would be no religious people.”

  4. Jon W says:

    The debate starts at 7 EST? I thought it was 7 CST (8 EST)?

  5. Jshobe says:

    I’m makin’ popcorn and setting the kids down to watch dad’s laptop.

  6. Jon W says:

    Ok, your second paragraph has got me pumped. I cannot wait to see this debate!

    Craig’s tactics survive by placing God at the extremities of our knowledge and understanding, where most of us have never been. It will be satisfying to watch you clear things up for him.

  7. Brett says:

    “Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”

    lmao

  8. Joel Rice says:

    When it comes to Design versus Designer I am with Design, but it is awfully strange that the universe contains pattern recognizers, minds and civilizations, as well as patterns as of the Standard Model. If there are mindlike aspects then the Designer idea has some intuitive appeal, at least if one strips away the anthropomorphic attention getting imagery. Physicists and Cosmologists are still stuck with trying to make sense of why there are any Physicists and Cosmologists in the universe. Is pattern recognition optional or necessary in the universe – is it part of the Design ? If the universe makes mathematical sense – which side of math does one take – the pattern or recognizer ?

  9. Daniel says:

    “The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”

    Sean,

    Have you listened to WLC’s podcasts where you are the subject? He has addressed some of your arguments before. Will you be addressing his response?

    I know that I shouldn’t even be concerned since I am not involved. But I am worried that the debate will trail off into too many subjects and nothing will be resolved. I have seen too many debates where the speaker throws out there canned case and hardly defends it when it is attacked.

    It would be nice if you both responded to each other in full, but time will probably not allow it. Rather you should keep the issues to as few a number of things as possible. That way, everything can be addressed.

  10. Sean Carroll says:

    Crap, I’ve been putting New Orleans on Eastern time by mistake. Thanks Jon W for the correction.

  11. Mike says:

    Please be civil! Craig is NOT a creationist, nor is he allied with the ID movement!! You both could probably find large areas of agreement, first-cause not withstanding.

    Also, I hope everyone stays on topic! When people leave the topic in order to attack their opponent (looking at you, Krauss) it only mocks the forum of debate itself.

  12. Jared Guthrie says:

    I bought my tickets. See you tomorrow night!

  13. Frederick says:

    @Joel Rice… My pattern recognition machinery is telling me that your STATEments, though surely well intentioned, fall into the category of somewhat “dubious, or rather ill-conceived” [*See Edit.]… while your questions are pretty good. Logical deduction from perceived pattern: Keep asking those questions! 😉

    I hope you are able to hear Sean in action throughout the course of the debate Friday night. I also hope that it will turn out to BE a fun experience: the low ethical standards routinely employed by these vocal theistic apologists — due to a sense of special entitlement, perhaps? — so often sullies the experience for me, personally. Sean, of course, has a glittering track record for integrity of argument, irrespective of whether one ultimately agrees or not. Hmm… perhaps that’s telling us something more universal, as well.

    [Edit:] I can see that I was thrown off a bit by the distinction you made between “Design versus Designer” up front, probably due to the conventional implication that goes with that choice of capitalization! So I should soften up the critique a bit (apologies) and ask for more clarification of what you meant, should you care to comment, Joel. Thanks.

  14. phil h says:

    drink every time WLC says “as such and such an authority figure says….”
    BTw its very late here in England to watch, will it be put online afterwards?

  15. DEL says:

    Sean, I’m with you 100%. But you clearly do not belong to the culture that maintains “He who straps on his sword for battle should not congratulate himself as he who takes it off.” [1st Kings, 20:11, my translation.]

    I’ll be watching, Sat. 2am Jerusalem time, probably under the influence, hopefully sober enough to be critical, as is my nature.

  16. Frederick says:

    @Mike… I might offer the opinion that W.L. Craig, and other self-styled “rational Theists”, or even less vocal “moderates”, are indeed effective apologists for Creationists and other theistic extremists, if only by EGREGIOUS omission! If not, why were ID-promoting legal actions burdening the justice system in 26 states (!) at the time of the Dover, PA decision; despite the (prior?) broad political support given by Evangelicals for the legal authority of Republican Justice John E. Jones III — who noted with crushing finality that the ID (“…by whomever/whatever”) case was one of “breathtaking inanity”?

  17. C.Takacs says:

    Mocking someone before you debate them is not wise. I think the biggest problem you are going to need to contend with won’t be your arguments so much as your own hubris. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

  18. Frederick says:

    …And BTW, Mike: Sean, in public forums, exhibits NOTHING like Lawrence Krause’s current proclivities and simplistic, off-topic biases — ever, so far as I can tell.

  19. David Park says:

    I admire your work Sean and wish you success. But please don’t get so overconfident! Your discussion with Hans Halvorson was not that impressive. I hope that you can contrast the epistemology of naturalism with that of religion and make no compromises.

  20. Mike says:

    @Frederick
    I see what you are saying (the wounds of Dover are still fresh) but you really can’t implicate people solely on the grounds of not being actively against it. If that were the case, then plenty of atheists who were silent on the matter (apart from head-shaking) should be admonished. In fairness, I’m not sure a lot of people (theists or otherwise) really cared about it. Sure, it got brought up in my circle of Ars Technica-reading geeks, but it was invisible outside of that. Ah memories…….

  21. Mike says:

    @Frederick
    ….and BTW, I agree %100 that Sean isn’t Krauss, and that’s a good thing. My main point being: I didn’t think even eccentric Krauss would fly that far off topic. It was disappointing that we didn’t get to hear his thoughts on the topic at hand.

  22. David Park says:

    I believe that a possible weak point in your position, Sean, is that science or naturalism has nothing to say about moral values. I don’t think that this is completely true. Is it moral to employ procedures that are known to fail when successful procedures are known?

    Or if it is a moral choice, then you could point out that we choose this life, the welfare of ourselves and fellow humans, and the future of humanity on this earth – which we know and see and have abundant evidence for; religion distains all that (take no thought for the morrow) and chooses a future life, which we don’t see and have no evidence for. So take your choice.

  23. Bob F. says:

    I’m certainly going to watch this. Sounds like a lot of fun. And maybe you should wear a bow tie. It works for Bill Nye, and after all, bow ties are cool.

  24. Evan says:

    Oh no. Why did you let them dictate format? You said it will be “opening 20-minute speech[es] by WLC and me (in that order).” That’s such a disappointment, and will likely lead to this being the usual mess that these sorts of things are. He will do his usual gallop, and you will be left to either address his falsehoods and thus never cover things of interest, or you will have to ignore them, giving the impression of incompetence.

  25. Frederick says:

    @David Park… Cognitive psychology research has quite a bit that’s interesting — and scientifically valid — to say these days concerning the nature of our moral feelings… and it is important to note that “feelings” are crucial in typical, predictable, and, of course, characteristically specious theistic arguments against naturalism as being sterile of any source (or even acknowledgment!) of morality.

    Naturally, Sean is correct that it is ultimately up to us to define the terms of our moral rules and sensibilities. I’m not so sure that Sean has outlined his objections to notions that science can offer up some fairly concrete set of moral values in sufficient detail to effectively counter the opinions of Sam Harris, et.al.; and the undeniable evidence (at least in the light of empiricism) that “Enlightenment values” and the deconstruction of political theistic authority have broadly and profoundly expanded the “moral sphere”. The likes of W.L. Craig have made all manner of attempts to deny this, or to confuse the issue; but facts are facts — a matter of history and public record.

    My apologies if I have missed something more extensive in scope on the topic here on site (I’m thinking particularly of Sean’s observations viewable on YouTube). I, for one, would encourage Sean to address this topic in more depth here, or in some other appropriate forum.

  26. Rohit K says:

    As a grad student, I have already got my best seat right here in Library ! It will be a lot of fun to watch live coverage of this debate while sipping on Dark Chocolate Turtle Mocha ! Good luck, Dr.Carroll.

  27. Frederick says:

    Hey, Mike, thanks for the courteous and considered comments. But, in fact, I DO agree that head-shaking, but otherwise passive and noncommittal non-theists share some culpability here.

    And I must state unequivocally that I CAN more broadly “implicate”, if that’s your choice of words, pretty much anyone effectively acting as an enabler for the perpetuation of America’s provincial backwardness in this matter… and the resulting broad-based and institutionalized educational censorship it promotes. Richard Dawkins is entirely correct that this disgrace effectively amounts to child abuse — children are not chattle or possessions of the “head of the house” (like oxen and wives), or of any other in loco parentis education authority. They are full citizens with rightly independent minds, and endowed with the inherent human moral authority to think for themselves!

    I should know. I was valedictorian of a high school class of 700+, had eclectic curiosity and loved science all my life — but was denied a proper science education in secondary school, in one of the two academically leading high schools in a large, non-Bible belt Ohio county; despite taking all the “honors” or “advanced placement” courses in math and science on offer. This was solely due to de facto censorship by theists, including (most especially) the “silent majority”.

    Not even an Ivy League education could really put me back on track for the kind of scientific career I might have envisioned for myself. I finally “got” the immense creative possibilities available in a “hard science” like physics, sitting on a cold beach on Nantucket in early June… because of a book by atheist Carl Sagan in collaboration with a Soviet astrophysicist (two bad things there, by conventional wisdom) — a full year after my graduation from college with a B.Sci. degree. A little late to be well on with my Nobel Prize winning work in theoretical physics by the age of, oh… say, 26.

    That’s my opinion. It’s a moral thing.

  28. Allan says:

    I look forward to this question being finally resolved.

  29. Frederick says:

    @Allan… LOL!

  30. It might help if you simplify the debate. You can use a folk definition of “belief” as “anything goes” or you can use a logical one of “hypothesis from knowledge to better knowledge”.

    Using the logical one, which is scientific, you can say there are no known bases to found the hypothesis of God’s existence. You can just use Parsimony to reject any “bases” outside what is known.

    Obviously, a hypothesis is to get knowledge and is not “known”, but it must be based on knowledge using Popper or any logical methodology to become knowledge after testing. God doesn’t get to the first step and so there is no hypothesis and therefore there is nothing at all – just ideas.

    Logically, you cannot hypothesize that God does NOT exist, because there is nothing either way to say so, and one usually has some humility about the accumulation of knowledge to leave open present unknowns. But you don’t leap to them until a “miracle” actually happens to found the hypothesis.

    So, logically in our accumulation of knowledge we cannot say we presently “know all”. We cannot hypothesize that God cannot exist as hypothesized by Craig or anyone in their ideas – there is no hypothesis there to work with or against. But we can say that if evidence of God arises, let me know, and until them enjoy your own ideas about this and that.

  31. Joel Rice, there is an open issue of distinguishing measurer and measured at all times, and patterns clearly exist in nature although not currently “believed” to be directed or to pre-set potentials for patterns in the laws of nature. Have a read of my free book at my site (click my name) if you have time, as it deals with those issues directly.

  32. Peter Ozzie Jones says:

    Sean, your claim makes me picture
    a bolt of lightning that strikes down during the debate
    together with a booming voice from above saying:
    “Damn, missed the blighter!”

    And I know that you can tear WLC’s use of real science to support his pseudo-science to little quarks.

  33. Ben says:

    Good luck man! You are going to need it. But you have the advantage (compared to other of Craig’s opponents) that you are trained both in cosmology and philosophy. So with a little luck, I think you will do well.

  34. It’s probably too late for this analysis to help since it’s not really a good idea to cram new information the night before a debate, but here it is anyway. One of Craig’s favorite arguments is that humans would be “just animals” under atheism, and since non-human animals “have no moral obligations to each other” neither would humans. His trick is to ignore what it means to be a moral agent. Humans are moral agents because we have the requisite faculties of language, reason, and self-awareness. That’s why we can do things like calculus, poetry, astrophysics, and moral philosophy. Other animals don’t have those faculties. Our difference from other animals has nothing to do with theism or atheism. His argument would be valid only if we couldn’t have those faculties under atheism, which would be a ridiculous assertion, of course. I explain this error in some detail in my article Why Most Animals are Not Philosophers: Fatal Flaws in Dr. Craig’s Moral Argument for God. Shelly Kagan corrected Craig on this point, but he didn’t seem to get it.
    .
    Also of interest: I have developed an axiomatic natural theory of morality based on the scientific definitions of objectivity and symmetry as outlined by Robert Nozick in his book Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. I begin with a review of the historical trajectory of physics towards unified theories based on symmetry principles. See The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality

  35. One other quick note: If Craig brings up fine tuning, remind the audience that the only reason we have any confidence in our theories is because they have been tested by experiment. We don’t have access to the alternate universes with different physical constants so there is no way for us to confirm any of the “predictions” of the fine tuning theories.

  36. Mike D says:

    Dammit. I was really hoping the format would allow you and Craig to sort of cross-examine each other, like he did with Shelly Kagan. Then again Kagan schooled Craig pretty hard, so maybe that’s why Craig likes to stick to gish-gallop-friendly formats.

    My biggest frustration with the 20/12/8 format is that the audience has the burden of tracking all these different little arguments and counter-arguments. You can cram a lot of stuff into 40 uninterrupted minutes.

    Ah well. I have no doubt that you’ll at least be a delight to listen to. Have fun!

  37. Ahab says:

    Debating WLC is a futile enterprise, especially when the debater’s a scientist, and the perceived benefits to the audience are little more than an illusion.
    Add to this the fact that out of all WLC’s debates with scientists -the ones I watched, at least- the only scientist who managed to emerge victorious (by a debate’s standards) was Victor Stenger, and even that was only in their first debate (WLC savaged him in the second).
    All of this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming debate.
    Needless to say, “hope springs eternal”.

  38. Joe in CO says:

    Egads (Ye Quantum Fields?).. the topic of the debate is “God and Cosmology” and I hope it sticks to that and does not wander over every argument about theism vs. atheism.

    And as for morality (which I would consider off-topic if I were moderating this debate) — why must a naturalistic morality be one that is rationally deduced from general principles or from neuroscience? Isn’t it sufficient to posit that morality is created by humans? There is no need for God. Sure many of these humans believed that their morality came from God, or a god, or many gods, but that doesn’t mean these deities exist.

  39. And as for morality (which I would consider off-topic if I were moderating this debate) — why must a naturalistic morality be one that is rationally deduced from general principles or from neuroscience? Isn’t it sufficient to posit that morality is created by humans? There is no need for God. Sure many of these humans believed that their morality came from God, or a god, or many gods, but that doesn’t mean these deities exist.

    I agree it is off-topic, but it’s such a favorite “argument” of Craig’s that I’d be surprised if he didn’t bring it up.

    As for morality being “created by humans” – sure, but that doesn’t mean that there are not universal principles like “fairness” (which is a symmetry principle) at the root of it all. That’s what my theory is about. I think it’s important to clarify since so many people are confused and think that morality would be impossible without a god.

  40. Kagan schooled Craig pretty hard

    He sure did. I made an annotated video of the lesson.

  41. LW says:

    For those of us in the cocktail timezone, I’ve started putting together some God & Cosmology Buzzword Bingo Cards. (Not because I don’t think the debate will have substance, but only because I’m not sure all my happy hour guests will be as utterly fascinated by it as I know I will be.)

    Anyway, the bingo cards are world-viewable so anyone who wants to add a little competitive fun to their debate-watching experience can print them out. Or you can copy the template and make your own cards. (If you do make your own, post links so we can print them, too! The more the merrier!)

    And Sean, knock ’em dead!

  42. Allan says:

    Sean, Craig is very good but he has one debilitating burden. He’s defending superstition and nonsense.

  43. Brett says:

    I think what people really want is for Sean and Craig to battle it out s’ghetti wrestling. Let’s make that happen.

  44. Brett says:

    If you do get roped into the morality argument, then I would say that morality is a parameter used to refine the mechanics of our most amazing tool; civilization. Look at all the modern technology we have from a relatively efficient civilization; and that’s a civilization loaded with problems that we all acknowledge and are working on. We sharpened stones and sticks to cut through flesh and hunt better than with blunt objects; morals are no different. You can see refinement in progress when we argue about politics, capitalism vs socialism, economics, etc. Utopian society is the goal, whether or not it is feasible, we don’t know yet, but that’s why we refine our morals as we see what works and what doesn’t work. It will be interesting to see what happens if/when we reach our maximum allowable population density.

    For any argument stating that this is a trait unique to humans, it should be noted that chimpanzees and other animals use sticks and various rudamentary “tools” all the time. That’s exactly how we started out.

  45. Wayne says:

    I’m very much looking forward to this dabate. After reading preceding comments here, it doesn’t *appear* that any are from women. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but seems a bit lopsided.

  46. Sean Carroll says:

    Love the Bingo cards, LW.

    And thanks for the good wishes, everybody!

  47. Wallace Marshall says:

    What absurd bluster. Given the miserable showing you atheists usually make in these debates, we’ll be happy if you just bring some real arguments to the table.

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  49. Sean (different one) says:

    “Mike says:

    February 20, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Please be civil! Craig is NOT a creationist, nor is he allied with the ID movement!!”

    This is simply untrue. Here is the Discovery Institute’s ‘Center for Science and Culture’ fellows. Note the seventh name on the list of fellows. (Not “senior fellows”.) You can’t get much more allied with the ID movement than that.

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