Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Brief sketch of my overall argument in the debate

Some have said they struggled to follow my line of argument in the William Lane Craig debate. So here’s a brief overview (check my closing statement too)

[post script - after presenting the evidential problem of evil] I asked Craig to explain why belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god - given an evil god is absurd (and Craig agreed it is absurd).

Most people will happily conclude there’s no evil god purely on the basis of the evidential problem of good (whether or not there are other reasons to reject the evil god hypothesis). So why isn’t the problem of evil similarly fatal to belief in a good god?

After all, most standard methods of explaining away the evil can be reversed to explain away the good. E.g. appeal to an afterlife and playing the sceptical, God-has-his-ultimate-reasons-of-which-we’re-ignorant card.

Now Craig, quite amazingly, actually chose to play that sceptical card on the night, endorsing the (highly counter-intuitive and, by him on the night, pretty much unjustified) claim that observation of the the world can give us no grounds at all for supposing there's no evil god (or good god).

But note that that STILL doesn’t help Craig at all, so far as explaining why it’s more reasonable to believe in a good god rather than an evil god (the latter belief being absurd).

The point is this: whether or not Craig plays the sceptical card, he’s still left having to explain why belief in his good god is very significantly more reasonable than the obviously absurd belief that there’s an evil god.

Now, the only arguments he gave to support his specific good god hypothesis were his moral and resurrection arguments. But those arguments, as he gave them on the night, weren’t nearly good enough, if my criticisms were correct (if you unsure about what my criticism were, then check them here and listen to the Q&A where I explained them in more detail) (however, it’s also clear quite a few people didn’t understand them – especially my criticism of the resurrection argument, which is actually a bit more sophisticated and thought-through than it might first appear. It's original, has never been addressed by Craig before in any of his books nor in any debate I've heard, and I'll probably publish it as an academic paper. But, as I say, it seems many in the audience only heard, "Blah, blah, UFOs, blah, blah!").

Notice by the way just how much intellectual heavy-lifting these two arguments had to do to show belief in Craig's god is reasonable. They had to raise his god hypothesis up to being reasonable from a starting position of being downright absurd (i.e. level pegging with the evil god hypothesis). So they had to be really good arguments! It's pretty clear they weren't, especially not as Craig presented them on the night.

So, it appears Craig failed to explain why belief in his good god is significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief that there’s an evil god.

I think quite a lot of people actually grasped that point, and so have switched to “But what about a deist god, then”? Someone actually shouted that out during my closing statement.

Well, I went this debate with one aim – to undermine belief in one specific god: Craig’s.

The debate was “Does God exist?” And both Craig and myself understood “God” to be defined, in this context, as his all-powerful and good god.

I think an impartial observer will find it pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that I won in terms of the arguments given on the night (though of course you might say I still lost the debate in terms of presentations skills, rhetoric, and so on; and you might still think that, given other arguments, the issue remains far from settled, or even that it can be settled in Craig's favour).

Some thoughtful Christians are being fair-minded and generous enough to say I won the arguments on the night (e.g. apologiapad: "Bill Craig loses a debate!") - which is good of them.

PS This all followed the evidential problem of evil argument, of course.

PPS. Many - incl even some atheists - have the mistaken impression that atheists need to come up with an account of moral value if they are to defeat Craig's moral argument. That's obviously not the case. In fact, it's a big strategic mistake to even try. The onus is not on me to come up with an account. It's on him to show his premises are true. His argument for his first premise (rejected even by Swinburne) was, in effect: "This evolutionary account of moral belief fails to make the belief true, so no atheist account of what makes them true can be given". That's an obviously fallacious inductive argument. But that's actually all he gave on the night.

PPPS I am out of the country for a while from tomorrow am....

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