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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Allan says:

    I look forward to this question being finally resolved.

  4. Frederick says:

    @Allan… LOL!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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”.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Kagan schooled Craig pretty hard

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

  16. 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!

  17. Allan says:

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. Sean Carroll says:

    Love the Bingo cards, LW.

    And thanks for the good wishes, everybody!

  22. 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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  24. 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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