God/Cosmology Debate Videos

Here is the video from my debate with William Lane Craig at the 2014 Greer-Heard Forum. Enough talking from me, now folks can enjoy for themselves. First is the main debate and Q&A:

It took a while for the Saturday talks by Maudlin, Collins, Rosenberg, and Sinclair to appear on line, but I’ve posted them here.

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134 Responses to God/Cosmology Debate Videos

  1. Jon W says:

    Thanks, Sean! I didn’t get to see it live, but heard you fared exceptionally well. I was beginning to worry that Greer Heard may have buried the videos somewhere they would never be found haha.

  2. emini_guy says:

    Thanks, indeed. Not everyone got a chance to watch the thing in real time.

  3. Howie says:

    Thanks Sean! I only saw parts of the debate while it was live and there were so many good points you made that I was looking forward to watching the full videos.

  4. Jack says:

    Wow Sean you did a bloody amazing job!! Your level of clarity was sublime and I felt like you not only destroyed WLC (who clearly was out of his depth on the science) but powered through so many arguments against theism it was breathtaking. Well done.

  5. JEO says:

    It has always confused (and frustrated) me how theists can offer up astonishment and disbelief that the universe could not pop into existence from nothing (no matter what the definition of nothing is), yet be in complete support of an entity like a god to have presumably come into existence such that a universe could have been produced.

    Or if that doesn’t work, the claim is that god has always existed, and that a universe complete with it’s own laws of governance could not have always existed without the necessity of being created in the first place.

  6. Ian Liberman says:

    Sean it was amazing to see you scientifically poke holes in his dissertation. You consistently pointed out how he took many of his examples out of context, when mentioning other scientists or writers. Your humor and wit contributed also to an amazing performance on your part and a disaster for Craig in every area. Thanks for posting.

  7. stuart says:

    the first 10 minutes are pretty great

  8. thanks for the video, i will see now

  9. The Thinker says:

    Is there any plan to have the other lectures by Mauldlin, Rosenberg, Collins and Sinclair up on YouTube? I didn’t get to see those.

  10. John says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have been checking back every day.

    Whatever begins to exist has to have a transcendent cause.

    NOT EVEN WRONG.

    lol

  11. I’ve been following debates on naturalism and theism for some time now, and I thought this was by far one of the best I’ve ever seen.

    As a naturalist, it was heartening to see such civility and cogency from the theists in their statements, but I was (perhaps predictably) most deeply impressed by the clarity and force of the arguments, as well as the humility and good humour, of the naturalists throughout the debate.

    Again, this was one of the most enjoyable, and enlightening forums I’ve seen in a long while. And I hope, Sean, you continue to take part in these truly important, instructive events.

  12. aoflex says:

    I removed all of the intermissions from the debate and I’ve turned on youtube commenting and rating: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXdYtAwH33k

  13. Scott Bergquist says:

    Thank you so much, Sean, for getting this video placed for public consumption. You are a marvelous speaker, so cogent and precise. From TED to Edinburgh to this latest, they are all great. Much can be gained from repeated watching of your videos. Many thanks!

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  18. Lucy Harris says:

    Sean,

    Watching now. So far, my favorite line is the one about an Aristotelian analysis of causation. :)

    Two questions. Will you be making your slides available? And, does From Eternity to Here discuss in detail how the Big Bang may not be the beginning?

    Thanks.

  19. Usama al-Binni says:

    Fun to watch, and Sean did a great job as expected, while Craig clung to his belief in his dogma, also as expected. He wouldn’t have admitted he’s wrong even if his own god came down to him and said so to him. It’s amusing seeing there are still people out there vehemently defending such archaic beliefs the way they have been defended for thousands of years and having blind faith in their validity, it’s not so amusing that this way of thinking is not rare. Craig gives the impression of being more sophisticated on the surface than some other recent debater, but really he’s recycling ancient arguments that totally ignore and misunderstand the recent developments in science and even disregard logical implications of that scientific understanding.

    It is wonderful how Sean started by declaring his purpose was not to win a debate, because none exists in the scientific community. A fact that Craig not only doesn’t seem to understand, but also is probably immune from understanding unless he’s willing to genuinely study what the science says and maybe get a PhD in physics/cosmology instead of one in a made up discipline.

  20. Philh says:

    Sean thank you so much for doing this. I have to so as an atheist Ive not been impressed with the quality of our side versus WLC. Ive also been frustrated at the cosmology community for not correcting his misleading statements. Of course many comomlogists have made the same misleading statements and I guess most have never heard of him or couldn’t care less about these sorts of debates. Looking at the Reasonabel Faith forums all the guys that used to say the beginning of the unvierse was proven with the BGV are now either nowhere to be seen or seriously back peddling.

  21. Leonardo says:

    very interesting!

    incredible how Craig kept on repeating his arguments without listening to Sean’s very good counter-arguments…

  22. Baron Ludwig von Nichts says:

    In the second video that Maudlin fellow said something about there being an “objective morality” in the universe, similar to 2 + 2 = 4, but independent of the existence of god. Which law of physics describes this “objective morality”? Is there a mathematical proof of it? I’m an atheist, but I am utterly baffled by atheist moralists like this. Does anyone have any idea what Maudlin is talking about?

  23. Brett says:

    Dr. Craig has trouble understanding the concept of “nothing”, as do many people. I wish someone would put him in a cheesy police interrogation room and force him to describe exactly what “nothing” is. Like Dr. Carroll implied many times, Dr. Craig seems to thrive on ambiguity while science and naturalism takes the higher ground by giving definitions of the words it uses. Scientifically (theoretically, but if you had the technology) you could produce a state of “nothing” in a lab; that seems like a statement that Dr. Craig wouldn’t be able to comprehend.

  24. Aaron says:

    Dr. Craig is VERY clear about what he means when he refers to “nothing”. That is, the absolute negation of all “things” (we can call this ‘metaphysical nothing’). This includes the quantum vacuum (QV) or quantum field(s) (QF).

    It is the atheist who often misuses the term “nothing”, or rather redefines what most people think of by”nothing.” For example, “I had nothing to eat this morning”….this DOESN’T mean that I has something to eat this morning and that something was “nothing”. It means I didn’t eat anything at all.

    Let me clear the real issue up for you:

    Atheists just don’t believe metaphysical “nothing” is a possible state of affairs. They believe that there was always some “thing” (mainly QV/QF). So the atheist is happy to admit that the QV/QF simply has no explanation, that is to say, to ask “where did those things come from”, is a stupid question. So when they say nothing, they mean “something,”

    The theist also does not believe that metaphysical “nothing” is possible, because God is a necessary being, who exists in all possible worlds, and thus cannot be negated out of existence. So God is the explanation for the QV/QF (or the first physical event). To ask where did God come from, is also a stupid question because God is simply defined as the uncaused cause. If you start talking about a created god, then you are not talking about GOD anymore (by definition).

    So, which of these “theories”you hold to will depend on your philosophical presupposition. You are either happy to end your quest at the QV/QF (are intellectually satisfied that these “things” require no explanation). Or you choose to believe that the only way something can come from nothing, is if a transcendent cause exists, and decided to create a universe/multiverse ex nihilo (without any “stuff”).

  25. Brett says:

    If Dr. Craig wants to use”nothing”, as described by ambiguous metaphysics, in the context of physics in order to negate physics, then he needs to understand what ‘nothing’ means in the context of physics. Though it doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t since he ignored and/or ran away from every point that Dr. Carroll addressed. Dr. Craig’s strategy was to plug his ears and keep repeating his main argument rather than address counterarguments.

    Metaphysics is not Physics. Let me clear this up for you: this isn’t atheists vs theists, it’s “God and Cosmology”. You can’t freely jump between whichever one you choose for the purpose of making your case. I believe that’s the point that Dr. Carroll is trying to make, i.e. the reason why theology is bogus is because there is no built in mechanism to counteract the human desire to claim something is true, even though there is no evidence to support it. Science IS that mechanism.

    Do you think that we could place god on a table, dissect it, and understand it? I don’t think that would be possible given the (extremely vague) definition of god. God would appear to be outside of the understanding of our universe. By the definition of ‘nothing’ used in physics (it is okay for a word to have more than one use or definition), then god doesn’t exist because there is no way for us to observe, predict, or interact with god. God is beyond our physical understanding, the laws of physics can’t describe it. A state of nothing is beyond physical description by quantum mechanics, a moment when there are no quantum mechanical actions occurring. For Dr. Craig to use nothing in this context shows a misunderstanding of what is meant by ‘nothing’; and it’s why Dr. Craig stuck to classical mechanics without ever addressing quantum mechanics; BECAUSE HE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DO SO. Dr. Carroll pointed this out repeatedly. Dr. Craig ignored it because it destroys his argument. Dr. Craig’s arguments rely on neat little semantics tricks. If all he has to make his case is semantics, then the debate is over and he lost.

    My point is that nobody is misusing the term because the meaning of a word depends on context liver bolt psi hung arrow smudge fallacy trickle; see my point? Dr. Craig either doesn’t understand what physicists are talking about, in which case he needs to further educate himself before taking such an absolute stance; or after watching excerpts a 3rd time, he doesn’t want to understand because his fundamental argument is reduced to “oh, well I guess I misunderstood… sorry”. I would prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn’t want to admit that he is ignorant of the subject and that he’s not some evil person who is looking to capitalize on this issue despite understanding that he’s ignoring crucial information.

    shit, I want to go to heaven, but I just don’t believe it exists. The place sounds amazing. Who wouldn’t want it to be true?

  26. Howie says:

    Aaron,

    I’d be very curious to hear what Sean and others think of your comment but I personally think you have summed up a big part of the God/no-God question very well. It seems to me that we do have to end the infinite regress somewhere. While the 2 options you give obviously don’t cover the entire gamut of options, I still get your point. Either the quest can end with a “necessary” explanation that is supernatural or the quest can end with a “necessary” explanation that is not supernatural. That might do better at being comprehensive in choices.

    I personally think that the non-supernatural choice has benefits over the other one. The main one being that we all agree that there are non-supernatural entities in the world (humans being one example). But whether or not there are supernatural entities is not something that is agreed upon – in fact it is hotly contested, and there does not seem to be empirical data supporting it. So positing something supernatural adds something extra to what we all agree exists, while the other option does not. Also, supernatural explanations seem to be a bit more complicated a solution than the natural solution. While this actually is a contested claim it seems to make sense to me. At least the traditional monotheistic supernatural explanation clearly is more complicated because that entity knows absolutely everything about anything that exists in reality. To me this seems to be a most complicated entity. Obviously Sean gave some other great points in the debate about why a non-supernatural explanation has benefits over the other option.

  27. Brett says:

    I think Dr. Carroll did a good job of making it clear that there is nothing wrong with believing in the supernatural, but as far as science and cosmology is concerned, it is not a logical or reasonable answer given the other choices AND THE EVIDENCE. There’s not enough evidence to support theism, but if there was, then we would change our minds and say that ‘theism is the way the universe works’. Changing your mind isn’t a bad thing, unless you’re an organization which relies on individuals willingly donating money…

  28. Lucy Harris says:

    @Aaron

    Dr. Craig is VERY clear about what he means when he refers to “nothing”. That is, the absolute negation of all “things” (we can call this ‘metaphysical nothing’). This includes the quantum vacuum (QV) or quantum field(s) (QF).

    Except Craig equivocates on nothing if he is claiming BGV provides an absolute nothing to begin from (as it seemed he did), since that’s obviously not what BGV is saying. When a cosmologist speaks of nothing, it’s not an absolute nothing, as Krauss’s and Hawking’s recent books on origin of universe from “nothing” have shown. And here’s Vilenkin from his Many Worlds book,

    The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind. What exactly is meant by “nothing”? If this “nothing” could tunnel into something, what could have caused the primary tunneling event? And what about energy conservation? But as I kept thinking about it, the idea appeared to make more and more sense.

    The initial state prior to the tunneling is a universe of vanishing radius, that is, no universe at all. There is no matter and no space in this very peculiar state. Also, there is no time. Time has meaning only if something is happening in the: universe. We measure time using periodic processes, like the rotation of the Earth about its axis, or its motion around the Sun. In the absence of space and matter, time is impossible to define.

    And yet, the stale of “nothing” cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus “nothing” should be subjected to these laws. The laws of physics must have existed, even though there was no universe.

    Craig’s appeal to BGV as supporting a beginning from absolute nothing is basically a quote mine.

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  30. Lucy Harris says:

    Sean,

    Having watched it in full, I thought Craig came off worse than first viewing it live. His first rebuttal seemed so disconnected from your opening, he didn’t engage your positions. Obviously, he is not an expert and is at a disadvantage on the topic, but then he shouldn’t be taking fringe views and presenting them as though they’ve been professionally vetted as authoritative. It’s fair to say he does know more about the science than most lay people, but it’s also clearly very incomplete knowledge and with misconceptions.

    If Craig were a grad student and his debate presentation were for an assignment on displaying one’s understanding of current cosmology, what grade would you give him?

  31. Augustine1938 says:

    LUCY: “Craig’s appeal to BGV as supporting a beginning from absolute nothing is basically a quote mine.”

    No, you’re mistaken about that. Craig reviewed Vilenkin’s book and specifically addresses the section you quoted: see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/vilenkins-cosmic-vision-a-review-essay-of-many-worlds-in-one

    CRAIG: “Vilenkin himself seems to realize that he has not really described the tunneling of the universe from literally nothing, for he allows, “And yet, the state of ‘nothing’ cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus ‘nothing’ should be subjected to these laws” (p. 181). It follows that the universe described by those laws is not nothing. Unfortunately, Vilenkin draws the mistaken inference that “The laws of physics must have existed, even though there was no universe” (p. 181). Even if one takes a Platonistic view of the laws of nature, they are at most either mathematical objects or propositions, abstract entities that have no effect on anything. (Intriguingly, Vilenkin entertains a conceptualist view according to which the laws exist in a mind which predates the universe [p. 205], the closest Vilenkin comes to theism). If these laws are truly descriptive, then obviously it cannot be true that “there was no universe.” Of course, the laws could have existed and been false, in which case they are non-descriptive; but then Vilenkin’s theory will be false.”

  32. Richard says:

    With a step back, this whole issue of naturalism vs. god is akin to evolution vs. intelligent design. By that I mean it seems like the theists have no comprehensive cosmological explanation at all, just naysaying particulat points of various scientific explanations. In other words they stand aloof poking holes in various cosmological models by quoting scientific literature which criticizes that particular model. In the end, the theists simply declare that there must be a transcendent cause (god) which created the universe out of nothing, but can’t explain how that happened.

    Additionally, it seemed awkward to watch a Christian apologist attempt to lecture a working theoretical physicist about physics. It is obvious Dr. Craig does not understand the BGV theorem but only uses it as a tool to attempt to poke holes in cosmological models with which he disagrwws.

  33. What I find super weird is the intuition that a universe that’s a sequence with a beginning raises the ‘why this beginning and not a different beginning or no beginning’ question in a way that’s more bothersome than how a universe that’s a sequence with no beginning raises the ‘why this sequence and not a different sequence or no sequence’ question. It’s so strange that theists find the physical existence of a well defined sequence that’s infinitely long in both directions less ‘contingent’ (if correct) than the physical existence a sequence that has a first element.

  34. Lucy Harris says:

    @Augustine1938

    That Craig believes Vilenkin is mistaken is what makes it a quotemine. To be clear, BGV never says that there was a beginning from nothing, let alone absolute nothing. And in the book, Vilenkin is only describing a nothing if there was one. He doesn’t say there definitely was. From BGV,

    This is a stronger conclusion than the one arrived at in previous work in that we have shown under reasonable assumptions that almost all causal geodesics, when extended to the past of an arbitrary point, reach the boundary of the inflating region of spacetime in a finite proper time (finite affine length, in the null case).

    What can lie beyond this boundary? Several possibilities have been discussed, one being that the boundary of the inflating region corresponds to the beginning of the Universe in a quantum nucleation event [12]. The boundary is then a closed spacelike hypersurface which can be determined from the appropriate instanton.

    Whatever the possibilities for the boundary, it is clear that unless the averaged expansion condition can somehow be avoided for all past-directed geodesics, inflation alone is not sufficient to provide a complete description of the Universe, and some new physics is necessary in order to determine the correct conditions at the boundary [20].

    Note how it says new physics is needed to describe the conditions. Craig is basically making an absolute-nothing (with god) of the gaps argument. It’s funny how Craig thinks he can know better than Vilenkin the implications of his paper. It’s like how during the debate he tried to tell Sean that he is wrong about his own paper. What do we need cosmologists or science for if Craig already knows all the answers?

  35. Matt B says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    I am new to your work, but not new to watching William Lane Craig debates. I have seen several (the greatest hits – Hitchens, Dr. Krauss, Sam Harris) but I thoroughly enjoyed your debate with him the most. Your blend of wit with sound scientific explanations really captured my attention (and I would imagine the attention of quite a few others as long as it lives on YouTube).

    This is really the first time that I really saw Dr. Craig hit by the buzzsaw of a fantastic science communicator with the cosmological knowledge to poke visible holes in his arguments in a way that actually makes sense to a lay person like myself (all due respect to Dr. Krauss, but I feel that you were far more clear in your scientific repudiations of Dr. Craig’s assertions than him).

    My favorite line (I am a programmer – so I am a little biased):

    “That’s what computer scientists call a bug, not a feature.”

  36. Augustine1938 says:

    Lucy,

    So we are to believe that Craig’s intent is to distort Vilenkin’s book by ignoring crucial parts of it (and hoping no one notices), yet he interacts with the entire book in an extensive review that he posts on his public website, engages in an extensive email exchange with Vilenkin to confirm his understanding of his work (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem) and also posts that on his public website, and schedules multiple public debates with cosmologists familiar with Vilenkin’s work (thus subjecting himself to rebuttal)? I don’t buy it.

    LUCY: “It’s funny how Craig thinks he can know better than Vilenkin the implications of his paper.”

    When science has philosophical implications it is appropriate to turn to philosophers to analyze those, not physicists, since that is outside the physicists’ wheelhouse. As John Horgan has said. “Scientists’ attempts to solve these mysteries often take the form of what I call ironic science—unconfirmable speculation more akin to philosophy or literature than genuine science” (http://discovermagazine.com/2006/oct/cover/#.UxFRMPldUfU). Metaphysics should be left to the philosophers.

  37. Richard says:

    I’m about an hour into the debate video. Sean Carroll just finished talking about evidence against theism, and now Craig is rebutting that this evidence isn’t cosmological in nature, and so not relevant. But Craig is missing the point — the last of Sean’s points — that theism isn’t well defined, because theism can explain any of these points of evidence if the right adjustments are made. Craig’s theism seems to be finely tuned indeed.

  38. Matt R says:

    @aaon:

    Do you really think that “the negation of all ‘things'” is a coherent definition of something (sic) you want to call metaphysical nothingness? Isn’t this just a classic example of what Wittgenstein called language going on holiday? Negation is a logical concept. Things are, well… things. Can you “negate” ALL “things”? Does this mean anything at all? I can imagine “negating” my cereal bowl by putting it in a drawer or maybe blowing it up. Can I imagine “negating” it in some absolute sense, along with everything else? “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is about as coherent a question to ask as “why is there where?” or “where is there why?” Simply giving a formal-looking restatement of a badly defined concept doesn’t make it less badly defined. Craig’s use of the term “nothing” in a “philosophical” sense may be lots of things, but philosophical isn’t one of them.

    So what is more rational: to realize that explanations, at some point, come to an end–more than that, to realize that some questions don’t even make enough sense to require explanations; or to play metaphysical parlor games that claim to fill serious gaps in our knowledge of the world?

  39. DEL says:

    Baron Ludwig von Nichts/Lucy Harris: The existence of “objective morality,” at least to me, does not follow from philosophy or physics or mathematics but from the empirical science of ethology coupled with the principle of biological evolution through random mutation and natural selection. And whatever formal philosophers mean by “objective,” what I mean is that the element of morality in the human psyche is naturally occuring, not man-made, not the product of education, free will or concious interest. Behaviors showing empaty, compassion, altruism, respect and courtesy come about in the same way as hunger, thirst and the sexual drive—not unlike our eyes, liver and kidneys.

    I’m aware of the philosophical connotations of objectivity as opposed to subjectivity—that one cannot empirically prove that a behavior typical of empathy indeed arises from a subjective feeling of empathy. (I guess philosophers won’t be satisfied even if an empathy hormone is discovered, the secretion of which correlates with both the behavior and the phenomenology attested to by the subject.) Again, what I mean by “objective morality” is not the opposite of “subjective” but the opposite of “choice morality.”

    In their rearguard battle against the encroaching scientific world view, theists, and religious people in general, use morality as an argument in two inconsistent ways: 1) natural knowledge of right and wrong is uniquely human and is proof-enough both that a benevolent god exists, who has instilled it in us, and that humans transcend animals; 2) “the man’s heart makeup is bad from his youth” [Genesis 8:21, my translation] and hence we have to learn how to be good from the commandments and examples revealed to us by God in his scriptures. Both arguments crumble when animals are shown to behave morally—with morals that fit their specific survival and reproduction needs—and that these behaviors are well explained as biological adaptations.

  40. Joan Hendricks says:

    Regarding Maudlin…….. yawn. I was reminded why I couldn’t finish reading his book, “Philosophy of Physics…” Way too much “why?”, “meaning?”, “purpose?” instead of simply “How did things get the way they are?”

  41. That was superb, Dr Carroll. Thank you.

  42. Bazooka Joe says:

    Just watched the debates, Sean was on top form, and while initially impressed with WLC’s attempts to engage with the hard science, he certainly has a handle on the nomenclature and can reel of phrases like Boltzmann brains at some pace but sadly I have to say I eventually shared Sean’s frustration with some of WLC’s repetitive responses, to be fair of course only a tiny minority of specialists are truly up to the debate of critiquing some of these cosmological models in depth (especially in a live debate) so some props for effort, he simply bit off more than he could chew and either through misunderstanding or diversionary tactics failed to grapple fully with Sean’s counter arguments.
    My own assessment of WLC from this debate is that he’s a smart guy with the self assured slickness of a politician. His interest in science though probably sincere is always likely to remain subservient to his ideologically combative defence of his faith. If he can find a science paper to back up his ideas he will naturally pounce on it, but not with the required objectivity or understanding to truly add to the cosmological debate itself, using fire to fight fire is his modus operandi.
    So he favours a universe that has a beginning? To paraphrase Bohr ‘Stop telling God what to do’!!! presumably(?) he rejects the earth being made in 7 days, and being 3000 years old etc but still needs to believe in a certain conception of the universe that fits the big bang as the biblical ‘let there be light’ moment when the very concept of time was created by the atemporal deity.
    In many ways though he got some stick I preferred the debate with Hans Halverson (Still trying to get over Sean’s admission he likes or at least liked the music of ELP. Then again when I heard their ‘music’ I was also convinced there could be no God, albeit for very different reasons!) Or if not so much the debate with Hans so much as what it revealed about the man himself- he clearly has a good grasp of the philosophical implications of science, and who seemingly understands that his faith is thereby a paradox, yet he still has faith! At times he appears unsure, halting, in conflict with himself- the polar opposite of WLC. By some coincidence I had just read Kierkegaards ‘Fear and trembling’, a superb analytical exploration of the logic of faith from the perspective of faith itself.
    Though I’m a confirmed atheist a famous and beautiful phrase from Fear and trembling still struck me.
    ‘If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?’
    That I am an atheist and life is NOT despair (well mostly) is also a paradox, the flip side of the coin. We can talk about how we through our agency can give our lives meaning yet behind that is the knowledge that it will end, and that our children’s lives will eventually end, and all Shakespeare, Mozart, Duke Ellington etc will eventually be wiped out of existence be it 1000 years in a catastrophe or billions of years away in the heat death. Somehow just temporal existence itself strikes me as all the ‘meaning’ needed. The universe just is, consciousness just is an emergent property and somehow that is enough.

  43. kashyap Vasavada says:

    I made my living all my life as a physics professor and am enjoying retirement benefits also from that past activity!! I cannot possibly have anything against physics and cosmology! As everyone knows by now, cosmological “nothing” consists of quantum fields and it is not “nothing” as understood by man/woman in the street! Now, how you interpret this scientific fact, depends on your belief system. Sean made some very good scientific points and I always learn something from his talks, blogs and books. But I do not agree with everything he says. At the same time many of Craig’s arguments were ridiculous. Personally I am in favor of peaceful coexistence of science and religion. Both have limitations and both can be good for mankind if properly used. Perhaps 30 to 50% of scientists do not have any problem with religion. Some prominent ones like Physics Nobel Laureate William Phillips, British physicist Polkinghorne, NIH director Francis Collins and some others are good examples. Their belief in God and Science at the same time is very subtle and cannot be explained in a few words. Actually my suggestion (obviously biased) is that atheists should consider eastern religions also before continuing their tirades against religions.

  44. gnome says:

    Hi Sean,

    This must be the best and most productive atheist-theist debate I’ve ever seen. It may or may not change minds but it certainly has helped to elucidate some of the issues many of us hold dear. I think this debate was very valuable and consequently I’m more than ever encouraged to study more cosmology on its own terms. Though, if I had to come up with a single objection it would be that it got too technical at certain points, but perhaps the topic required it.

    All that aside, I couldn’t help but get the impression that it became more an academic debate about whether the universe had a beginning or not rather than whether God’s existence had any bearing to that or not. I don’t frankly think naturalism or theism hinges on whether the universe had a beginning or not. How much is the probability of theism really affected by whether the universe has a beginning or not? You could argue for theism either way. Cosmology really is largely immaterial to theism.

    The crux of the matter is, and I think you were trying to get at that, is in the idea of _explanation_. It’s easy to come up with a thesis that is consistent with any physical state of affairs, but the issue is really: what constitutes a good explanation? That there must be limits on what constitutes a good explanation or it isn’t really an explanation at all, it’s just a mere justification of what you’ve already decided to be true.

    Finally, the scientific and philosophical expertise you brought to this really did give you the edge. This is an important lesson I think people on both sides of the debate should heed.

    Also, I must give some credit to Craig for being willing to engage you on your own turf and sticking to the topics at hand.

    Thanks!

  45. Baron Ludwig von Nichts says:

    Thank you DEL for your response. Of course, there are many behaviors that are naturally occurring in human beings which can be justified on evolutionary grounds, such as racism, rape and genocide. Why only focus on the ones you like?

    It seems to me that atheists are in some denial about the nihilistic consequences of their non-belief. In a world made of atoms and the void, there are only arbitrary, non-physical, social reasons for acting in ways that are currently considered moral. If a group of psychopaths becomes powerful enough to change human society and dominate the memetic and genetic landscape going forward, then their morality will become the new normal, and the universe simply won’t care. Appeals by people like Professor Maudlin to some scientific “objective morality” seem like rather flimsy attempts to create a new god and a new basis for “progress” where none exists. Nietzsche understood this problem a long time ago and went “mad from the revelation” trying to solve it. As far as I can tell, it remains unsolved, though most people seem to want to sweep it under the rug rather than confront it. Nihilism is still the Lovecraftian monster haunting secular civilization, which may yet prove to be its undoing. If the suicidal trajectory of postmodern civilization is any indication, secularism is but a brief bubble that will soon break before the next wave of fecund, aggressive believers.

  46. Humanity Akbar says:

    tim maudlin seems to be good at practicing negative capability

  47. allan says:

    @baron your concerns about atheism, nihilistic consequences and secularism are typical for a believer or ‘used to be believer’. Why not look at the facts. Modern secular societies, where religion has been relegated to a fringe or infrequent cultural activity, manage just fine. I know it because I live in one. On most measures I live in a healthier society than most societies regarded as ‘religious’ Less crime, less rape less murder, less inequality. Your imaginings don’t correspond with reality.

  48. Baron Ludwig von Nichts says:

    Allan, I’ve never been a believer in God, though I did once have faith in secular progressivism. My main point was that secular progressive societies are based upon “noble lies” just as much as any theocracy — indeed, one might call them “progressive theocracies.” The ideological foundations of secular societies — “Justice”, “Progress”, “Equality”, “Reason”, etc. — are just as much made-up memes as “God”, “the Millenium”, “Faith”, and “Salvation.” Since no moral order is written in the stars or in the laws of physics, every society that claims one is built upon a foundation of quicksand. Power, ultimately, is the arbiter of human affairs, and all appeals to “objective morality,” whether derived from reason or divine revelation, are just attempts to justify one’s preferred power structure.

    As for your claims about reduced crime in secular societies, which society are you talking about specifically? The murder rate in the United States today is an order of magnitude higher than in 1900, though I doubt it is an order of magnitude more religious. I didn’t say that modern secular societies don’t manage OK, but I will challenge your claim that they represent some kind of apotheosis of world history.

  49. Pierre Schmidt says:

    @Baron
    “My main point was that liberal, progressive, secular societies are based upon “noble lies”
    And your main point is bullshit, plain & simple. Obvious to anyone with half a brain. Game over.

    “The murder rate in the United States today is an order of magnitude higher than in 1900”
    And in case you hadn’t noticed, the population of the U.S. is a helluva lot higher than it was in 1900 as well. Looks like you need to take a course in statistics. :)

  50. allan says:

    @baron I’m specifically talking about the UK, but I think the general comparison between the U.S. and western Europe shows that religion is not necessary to produce a humane and peaceful society. I’m not claiming that religion is necessarily harmful (although it almost always harms education) but that societies free of religion function perfectly well. You talked about “noble lies’, I would argue that these noble lies are based on the elementary idea that suffering is bad and wellbeing (to use the Sam Harris term) is good. I’ve been asked by religious types to justify that, My response is to tell them to try the experiment of dropping a hammer on their toe.