Tag Archives: Craig

The God-fearing Determinist*, Part 3

Jokes are good fun, but even satire can reveal that the question is not a simple one, even one that could lead to paradoxes. More fun:

Take the First Cause Quiz!

First-Cause-Quiz

(Click the image for the PDF version of the quiz below – to find out what you believe in. This quiz emulates theistic epistemology and may therefore contain nuts, and traces of false dichotomies. Put tongue in cheek before ingesting.)

1. If something popped into existence without a cause / always existed, was it created? -No. (If Yes, we need to find a new word for this peculiar phenomenon; it is the definition of the word; but even if a new word is defined, it will not carry the meaning of “Creation performed by a Creator”;it would necessarily follow that God didn’t create the Universe. He “something-else’d” the Universe.)

2. Do some things pop into existence / always exist? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe; it unfolded by cause and effect.)

3. Did the Universe pop into existence without a cause / always exist, or did something cause it to begin to exist? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe.)

4. So you affirm some events require a previous cause but some don’t, and that the Universe is one of the things that require a previous cause. Is that previous cause an act of God? -Yes. (If No, God didn’t create the Universe.)

5. Did the Creator pop into existence spontaneously / always exist, or did something cause the Creator? -No. (If Yes, God plays the intermediary Creator, a role not portrayed in mainstream religions.)

6. So you’re unsatisfied with an uncreated Universe as First Cause. Is an uncreated Creator a better answer? -Yes. (If No, you’ve understood something important – why someone doesn’t have to be Atheist or even a skeptic to question your religion’s origins claims.)

7. Despite all the other causes previously ascribed to acts of God having been replaced with actual knowledge of how reality works, leaving you only the cause for the Big Bang, can you substantiate that this cause is an act of God? -Yes. (If No, you don’t know that God created the Universe, and the argument ends.)

8. Are these substantiations abstract arguments that suspiciously fit exactly what is left to be explained before the Big Bang? -No. (If Yes, several competing, and not necessarily divine origin, theories could fill the gap, and you don’t know that the one involving your God is the correct one.)

9. Accepting all your substantiations as true, you have still only shown that this is an act of a God. Can you identify the Creator of the Universe with the deity of your own religion? -Yes. (If No, you don’t know that your God created the Universe, and the argument ends.)

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OK, phew. The quiz is over! If you didn’t make it past the last question, you should display intellectual honesty by admitting that you don’t know if your God created the Universe.

If you did, you should submit your arguments and any evidence and references for peer review. If some of them are refuted soundly, you should display intellectual honesty by abandoning deeply held convictions that rest on them in order to show that you are interested in seeing truths – just as Scientists do for (perhaps) much more rigorously researched theories than yours. Or, of course, defend your argument.

“If something is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or it isn’t, you should suspend judgment.”

Bertrand Russell

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This article series continues with part 4, which will deal with false dichotomies, show how an open question on the subject might be phrased, and the relation of any educated guess, answer, explanation, or theory to reality.

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The God-fearing Determinist*

* The standard apologist position: The Universe must have a cause, and all other things except a few miracles.

Logical possibilities are not actual possibilities nor even real or physical possibilities, this we all know. Not admitting it is regressing back to Platonic Idealism and beyond – Plato called them ideal universals abstracted from the particulars, but some argue for their reality: “A perfect circle, eternity, and infinity are real because they can be formally imagined or idealized”.

The proper stance must instead be that you must show it can be realized. (No circle in the real world is perfect, eternity is not what we measure, and infinity is solely a tool for mathematicians.) All non-fact-based logical conjectures (Philosophical Zombies) must be deemed unprovable and therefore already past unproven and unreal. Here’s one:

Now, it’s always entertaining to watch Craig’s selective logical laxity. An easy target, you might mutter. But this is his third decade of proudly repeating the same God-fearing Determinist* argument of his. I’ll explain.

The modern deistic argument for the existence of a Creator is that everything we see must have had a cause. (Historically, believers used to have many reasons of varying credulity, but they’re now left with only what caused the Big Bang.)

This is based on that good old axiom: “Nothing comes from nothing”. Believers and non-believers generally agree on this. Theistic Philosophers “fix that problem”, but the rest of us take it a bit more seriously and still consider it the deepest mystery of all.

Now, believers in general are certainly not hard determinists (hence the *) and furthermore don’t feel the need to claim that everything that has ever happened was caused by previous events (since Free Will is the cornerstone of moral righteousness, even though punishment is usually put off until the sinner is dead unless secular law intervenes).

Yet, when it comes to the existence of deities, believers feel compelled that an argument is required! Curious. The correct questions that follow are:

“If only some events require a cause, why does Creation?”, in paradoxical combination with,

“If Creation requires a cause, why doesn’t a Creator?”

Putting that thought to one side, apart from the * he shares with believers, Craig’s primary problem is this:

In an effort to pile on impossibilities until they equal awesomeness, Craig leaves no time in which this First Cause could operate. To create the Big Bang (as he argues), or … anything that it actually says in the Bible that God created, because presumably, he’s remained timeless since. In arguing a need for a first cause in this way, it’s vital to see it is independent of physical laws or what we consider time to be.

In this, it’s of course no different from the usual suspension of natural laws when a miracle happens (such as the acts of creation the Bible actually says happened!) Either way, we clearly see that any First Cause cannot operate on zero time, Craig’s Timeless God is an impossibility, and therefore we can question his description and his quality criteria for logical soundness. He’s had decades to consider these claims.

Logic’s strength lies instead in drawing conclusions from fact, deducing and predicting that which is not yet fact. Now, logical propositions are unable to rule out their own axioms, more’s the pity. Ex Nihilo is just one of those. This is unfortunate, or we could all have had the answers at the first glimmer of thought.

You will find that all such arguments for a First Cause / Prime Mover having this standard Ex Nihilo as axiom are Philosophical Zombies. This makes the deepest of mysteries remain a mystery, despite what others would have you think. Perhaps this is good for now, that we may keep this sense of wonder that we feel.

His secondary problem is, as he happily demonstrates in the clip, he cannot hope to identify the First Cause as Yahwe or any deity. The properties he details sound less like the God of the Bible and much more like an abstract object tailor-made to complete the puzzle. Even someone with the best of intentions may construct such, but those who are aware of this trap and aspire to intellectual honesty rarely do.

In any case, believers should be wary to accept Craig’s God. If being timeless, spaceless, and immaterial doesn’t put him out of existence, at the very least his God can be replaced with any similar concept you fancy. Just as Craig cannot explain how something timeless causes time, it’s a just as onerous task for any such Creator you choose.

It’s always struck me that being this type of believer is the harder position. It would seem the better, if more laborious and cumbersome, position to claim that determinism is false for all events, rather than false for some and true for some (such as Creation). Perhaps Craig feels his job is to tell us in which instances determinism is false. Incidentally, other Philosopher would agree: this is perhaps Philosophy’s hardest yet most worthwhile endeavor. But in this argument, he expects his logical reasoning will take him farther than it possibly can. (I’ll have something say on both subjects in my upcoming article series on Free Will, a work that has now been long in progress.)


Sam Harris vs. Craig Absolute Morals Non-Debate

Any educated philosopher will insist that using god-as-catchall (god is the source of creation, miracles, and moral judgment) is non-explanatory, and so 1/2 arguments is made worthless by Craig, its supposed defender, within two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

To fortify his already by half deflated argument, he uses the fuzzy word “grounded”. I hardly balk at the lack of its use in philosophical literature. It’s used here as a shortcut to avoid a sticky defense. Sarcasm: “You can’t ask why moral values are grounded in god!” -“Why are moral values grounded in god, and what is the nature of this grounding you speak of?” -“I said you can’t ask that!” -“I just did!” -“Well, I don’t have to answer!” -“Why don’t you have to answer that?” -“You can’t ask that!”, and so on.
Harris suggests good and evil be defined in terms of flourishing and misery, and Craig attempts to prove these words are not being used properly – by using moral definitions of good and evil in the bible. Wow.

Harris proposes an endeavor towards moral duties that are universal for all conscious creatures. Craig says there are none, because nobody has told atheists what to believe, again of course based on his circular reasoning for his contention that moral duties require a constant guide and companion. While this might temporarily block rhetorical entry into a shared journey towards answers, all philosophers would prefer such, and therefore take a “Says who!?” over an “Says you!” attitude every time, or else replace philosophy with doctrine.

The term “free will” is used by Harris in the sense that in a deterministic world, choices are nevertheless possible to make in the absence of the metaphysical “free will” which Craig is unable to shift his focus from. [Edit: Wrong. They both mean sort of the same thing, defined by neither, Sam Harris has gone on to disprove it, in place of research I argue in a future post.]

This explains why Craig is shocked and accuses determinism of lacking all moral responsibility. [Edit: Nah, he thinks they both mean kinda, sorta the same thing and is rightly shocked at Harris providing no immediate replacement/treatment.] A psychologist would recognize this as an expression of Craig’s make-up. What he’s talking about here is guilt, not responsibility.

There is no guilt without a judge, and while we have courts judging guilt and punishment IN PLACE of god, he might (or might actually not) find favor with his likes if he supplied god as catch-all for this as well, in spite of reality and society. He avoids this, which should be a clue as to what level of his intellectual honesty he’s able to bring himself (alternately, uncharacteristically, his being human and forgetting, or coming unprepared).

Putting an “if” before “god exists” proves that if god exists (and I would like to add if people can agree on which god exists), there is objective morality, but Craig fails at removing the ifs and so fails at proving there is objective morality, something he asks Harris to prove – and which he is alone in this exchange of trying.

Harris offers universal morality, but could of course stoop to Craig’s semantics and simply state, “if there is an objective morality there is an objective morality”. This is all he would do to match Craig’s efforts, even if he could just make up a god and commandments [1]

Harris touches lightly on this in relation to divine command theory.

[1] Interestingly, he does just that at the end of the session, see below.

In the first rebuttal, Craig starts with an excruciatingly feeble “No, you’re wrong” in the face of lucid accounts by Harris and lack of proof for Craig’s own stand. Expeditely, he reveals his failure in grasping Harris’s correct account that christian doctrine teaches that believing in god is a requirement to be spared hell. Luckily, misunderstanding is not a proof of contention, or we’d have fools for teachers.

Craig goes on to use the christian meaning of “evil” to prove that god exists, because there is no evil without moral values and if god exists, moral values exist. He goes from this conditional, one-way proof to make it two-way without supplying arguments, and runs a further lap in this circular reasoning by adding “Some – things – are – evil!” based, unsurprisingly, on the original conditional one-way proof without feeling he’s obliged to provide an example evil thing for the curious mind.

Luckily, conditional proof is not proof and I will be happy to rid the world of the word “evil”, since it requires rigorous analysis. As Ayn Rand inadvertently showed, it’s a useless word for synthesis and is used as a doorstop by the best of philophers when arguments run out.

He goes on to misunderstand the neuroscientist again, despite Harris’s clear account that psychopathic christian beliefs are identical to psychopathic beliefs by others without it making them psychopaths, catching Craig at stereotyping by objective action. Even a lowly judge-in-absence-of-divine-judge would not make such an error. Psychopaths on the peaks of well-being is nothing new, but the mention is another glaring failure of understanding Harris’s model.

After this, he soothingly proposes that moral actions on divine command are morally irreprehensible irrespective of religion, except conveniently those who commit atrocities in the name of their god, who obviously have just “got the wrong god” (and therefore, but not necessarily, the wrong divine command). I judge those few sentences to sum up the potential of intellectual honesty of Craig and the fruitlessness of any debate about morals without open minds on all sides and with the goal to reach shared insights.

When arguments run out, the open-minded approach is not to grab a catch-all in desperation and arrogance, but to humbly confess that we have not yet developed the arguments – and try to provide tentative ones, as I discovered Harris goes on to say.

In the closing, all Craig seems to end up with is, if god doesn’t exist, christians have no moral values, and I can’t prove god exists. Therefore, even christians cannot supply proof that they have moral values. I would like to thank Craig for this confirmation.

Craig isn’t out of circular logic. He expects thinkers to accept, “God exists because there is order to the Universe, and the Universe exists because it was created by god”. From the outset, this was just a talk, and indeed Craig is a speaker, but the problem with this isn’t that it’s immediately refutable by a student, but that it’s objectively uninteresting and unworthy of pursuit by a seeker of truth.

Harris’s prime contribution to philosophy of late, the serious scientific study of morality, is one that I will continue to follow with great interest.

I think anyone endeavoring into the moral landscape will be wise to dissect the word “evil”, as the only purpose the word serves is to provide the last chance for a moral refugee who just wants to be morally superior without reason.

As with the word “stupid”, the proponents of such an idea or person so accused is right to want such a dissection, that accuser and defendant may learn.

If “Some actions are just evil!”, then “Some doctrines are just stupid!”, and since intellectuals may investigate the stupidity of doctrines, I would feel that science and logic may investigate the evilness of actions.

Learning from the investigations, however, finally comes down to the intellectual honesty and depth of those who carry them out.

(This is an account and analysis of what is presented. Commenting on truthfulness or bias is appreciated, but kindly respect the Copyright.)