Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Premier Christian Radio - two upcoming interviews

Two upcoming shows which I just recorded - link to shows is here:

Sat 10th December: "The Evil God Challenge"

I discuss the challenge with Christian philosopher Glenn Peoples. Glenn is based out in New Zealand. His blog is here.

This was a useful discussion as it allowed me to deal with several common misunderstandings about the challenge - including "But Christians don't base their belief about God's goodness on empirical evidence" (this is a complete red herring: it's irrelevant to the challenge, in fact, as I explain in this interview).

Saturday 18th December "Is Christianity an intellectual black hole?"

Second recording is based on my book "Believing Bullshit". Discussion with James Orr - a graduate philosophy student at Cambridge. We discuss whether its rational to believe in things like the miraculous. BTW I don't claim Christianity is an Intellectual black hole, or bullshit. As everyone on the show agrees. Take note Martin Cohen.

Also available as podcasts (post transmission) on itunes. Search premier christian unbelievable.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Live on Atheists Talk Radio

Today, 9am Minnesotta time, 3pm UK time. I must not say "bullshit" When Radio 3 asked me not to say it, I ended up saying it about 20 times. So there may be a few bleeps....

Link here. It will be a podcast almost immediately I think.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


CFI UK and The Ethical Society present:
Arranged by Stephen Law (Provost CFI UK)

Saturday 14th January 2012
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London

Bookshop by Newham Bookshop


General: £10 general public. Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID. Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK.

***Special offer*** Tickets to this event and the Blasphemy! event on the 28th January £16 general, £12 members and students):Members and student ticket offer and General public ticket offer.



Spirits on the brain: Insights from psychology and neuroscience

Chris French is a Professor of Psychology and Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and former editor of the Skeptic.

Belief in spirits can be found in all human societies and a substantial proportion of the population claim to have had direct contact with a spiritual realm beyond ordinary experience. This talk presents an overview of scientific research into sleep paralysis, near-death/out-of-body experiences and reincarnation claims in support of the claim that such topics can be understood without recourse to paranormal explanations.


'Is there anybody there?'

A ghost hunter that doesn't hunt for ghosts, Hayley Stevens has been researching paranormal reports since 2005. She is the co-host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast, blogs at 'Hayley is a Ghost', occasionally writes for numerous publications, and has spoken internationally about ghosts and critical thinking.

As someone who used to actively hunt for proof that ghosts existed, Hayley has first hand experience with the weird and scary lengths that ghost hunters will go to, to contact the dead and prove they exist in spirit form. 'Is there anybody there?' will give insight into the modern world of ghost hunting where a scientific approach is more likely to be an updated version of seance parlour antics - from the evolution of table tipping, to the revolution of the Ghost busting Smart phone apps.

1.00-1.30 LUNCH BREAK


Mediums at Large

Paul has been a professional trickster for almost thirty years during that period has appeared countless times as performer, presenter and pundit on numerous TV shows across many genres. As someone who spent a brief period (in his admittedly misguided youth) as a fortune-teller and 'psychic', and as a lifelong student of cons, scams and swindles, he is well qualified to talk about the current crop of mediums and the media bias towards their promotion. He would like to take the precaution of prefacing his entire talk with the word 'allegedly'.

A mild rant about TV mediums and the similarity to their predecessors of a century ago.



Richard Wiseman is the Professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He has been active in the skeptical movement for many a year, does Twitter stuff, has recently written 'Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there', and likes dogs.

Do ghosts really exist? What actually happens at seances? How do you go about testing mediums? Why do these sorts of paragraphs often involve a long list of questions? All of this and more will be revealed in an exciting talk that will dig deep into the psychology of belief. Free packet of peanuts for the best question.


You Are The Magic

Ian Rowland is a writer and entertainer with an interest in various aspects of how the mind works or sometimes doesn't. He taught FBI agents how to be persuasive, and taught Derren Brown how to read fortunes. In America, in front of 10 million TV viewers, he proved that he could talk to dead people - or at least fake it well enough to convince complete strangers. He knows an awful lot about cold reading (look it up), but tries not to drone on about it at parties. He is good at drinking tea and waiting for interesting invitations to come his way. Ian will perform a few miracles, just because he can and it's fun, while explaining the truth about psychic powers, miraculous gifts and the afterlife. He will also demonstrate that you are just a little bit more magical and miraculous than you may realise.

4.00 END

Blasphemy day

'Blasphemy!' - blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights: who speaks for the sacred?

Presented by CFI UK and The Ethical Society
Saturday 28th January 2012

CONWAY HALL,25 Red Lion Square Holborn

Introduced by Dr Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London and Editor of Think (Royal Institute Philosophy) Provost of Centre for Inquiry UK.

This event focuses on the criminalization of religious hatred, defamation, and insult under European human rights, and how this functions as a de facto blasphemy law.

Tickets on sale HERE.

General: £10 general public

Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID

Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK.

***Special offer*** Joint tickets to this event and the Beyond the Veil event on the 14th January: £16 general public and £12 members and student ticket offer.



11.00 am Kenan Malik - Title TBA

12.00 Andrew Copson – Blasphemy laws by the back door

Andrew Copson has been chief executive of the British Humanist Association since 2010 before which he spent five years coordinating the association’s campaigns work including on blasphemy and free speech issues.

After decades of campaigning the criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel have been abolished but censorship of blasphemous content and even threatened prosecution of blasphemes continues in the UK. Andrew explores how corporate interests, opaque advertising regulations and new criminal laws continue to stifle free expression and free criticism and mockery of gods and religions.
1.00-1.30 Lunch

1.30 Austin Dacey – The Future of Blasphemy

Austin Dacey, Ph.D., is a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the author of The Future of Blasphemy:

If blasphemy is an affront to values that are held sacred, then it is too important to be left to the traditionally religious. In the public contestation of the sacred, each of us—secular and religious alike—has equal right and authority to speak on its behalf and equal claim to redress for its violation. Laws against blasphemy and "religious hatred" are inherently discriminatory because they give traditional faith communities a legal remedy that is not available to religious minorities and secularists when their sense of the sacred is violated.

2.30 Jacob Mchangama (to be confirmed)

3.30 Additional speaker TBA

4.30 End

A variety of interesting books will be on sale at the event, provided by Newham books.

Monday, 21 November 2011

On Channel 4 "4thought" slot on creationism TV tuesday

I have a brief two minute slot at about 5 mins to eight, tomorrow night on Channel 4. Part of a week long series on whether (young earth) creationism should be taught in schools. In the 4thought TV. Website with links to all the clips including mine here.

P.S. They chose the "angry" bits out of the stuff they recorded with me!

PS Which is fine as I am angry about it.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Daily Mail article

I have an article on bullshit in today's Daily Mail. Life&Style section.

Hang on... no I don't! Was misled. Maybe next Monday....

Thursday, 17 November 2011

I'm tutor for admissions at Heythrop College, University of London

I happen to be tutor for admission for the BA in philosophy at Heythrop College University of London. If you want to find about more about our BA programme, or an evening MA in philosophy, get in touch (email address is in the header to this page). Obviously with the new fees system, all colleges are focusing on recruitiment, and so are we of course. Obviously we're not as well known as some other colleges. But we are quite exceptional.

So here are a few facts about Heythrop you might be interested in, if you're thinking about pursuing a degree in Philosophy or Theology.

(1) Heythrop is the University of London college that specializes in just Philosophy and Theology. It's all we do.

(2) Heythrop students achieve remarkably good results, despite our comparatively modest entry requirements. We have outperformed other better known colleges in terms of number of first class hons degrees achieved, for example

(3) This is because, astonishingly, Heythrop runs a one-to-one tutorial system. Students receive individual one-to-one tutorials on all their second and third year essays. This is unheard outside of Oxbridge, of course, and is one of the main reasons are students are so academically successful.

(4) Heythrop is a Jesuit foundation (in fact it's the oldest college of the University of London, being founded by the Jesuits in 1614, though one of the most recent member colleges of the University). However, despite its religious foundation, it is highly diverse in its membership. I'm there, for goodness sake. And I'm made to feel very welcome too. The student body is no more "religious" than at other London colleges, and the staff have all sorts of views on the subject. There's no religious agenda at all in the philosophy teaching. We just ask that you think and question with an open mind.

(5) Heythrop is small, friendly, and located in beautiful, leafy Kensington Square, very close to Kensington High Street tube station.

(6) Heythrop has some excellent philosophy research going on. Tom Crowther is doing cutting edge work in the Philosophy of Perception, for example (recent paper in Philosophical Review). But our greatest strength is in Philosophy of Religion. We have Professors Keith Ward and John Cottingham working in this area as part of Heythrop's Centre for The Philosophy of Religion. And of course I am regularly publishing in philosophy of religion too (and other areas).

Here's a recent letter of mine published in the Independent:

Dominic Lawson ("A Private Sector Oxbridge? Not Exactly" 7th June) rightly celebrates the one-to-one tutorial system, offered by Oxford and Cambridge, which he describes as "the single most valuable aspect of their educational offering". But Lawson is wrong to say the system is only offered by Oxford and Cambridge. It is also offered by Heythrop College, University of London for undergraduate degrees in philosophy and theology.

If you want to know more, get in touch with me directly. Our website is here. Open days and student conferences available (I run the Philosophy Conferences which will be 8th and 9th March 2012. With Julian Baggini, Michael Lacewing, Chris Horner and myself speaking).

Stephen Law
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Tutor for Admissions BA Hons Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Feser saga continues

Just posted this on Edward Feser's blog here.

It relates to this post of mine below.

It all ultimately related to my paper The Evil God Challenge.

Edward, you say:

“But your [evil god challenge] argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is no God.”

Ah right the penny has finally dropped. It is indeed a way of developing that traditional challenge and refining it somewhat.

“Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!”

Warmed over, eh?! Charming. Well, the evil God challenge is a way of developing the evidential problem of evil in such a way that very many standard theistic responses are neutralized or revealed to be hopelessly inadequate. Because, it turns out, those responses work just as well in defence of an evil god. The key point is, the evil god hypothesis remains straightforwardly empirically falsified on the basis of what we see around us, notwithstanding the reverse theodicies I consider.

That’s what makes this way of developing the challenge posed by evil somewhat unusual, and worthy of inclusion in the journal Religious Studies, apparently.

Obviously, you’re not terribly impressed. It’s just the evidential problem of evil “warmed over”, you say. But let’s look at an illustration of the evil god challenge in action.

One author dismisses the evidential problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God as “worthless”. Why is it worthless? The author sweeps the problem to one side because they suppose it’s entirely dealt with by two points. The first point is: they suppose we can look forward to a limitless afterlife in which we’ll enjoy the beatific vision, and this is going to more than compensate us for all the horror we experience in this life. The author quotes St. Paul, who said: “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The second point the author makes is this: that the pain etc. we experience now is the price paid for greater goods to be gained later. They illustrate by pointing out how suffering of child being forced to learn the violin is the price justifiably paid for great good of that child’s later being able to play violin (they admit this isn’t suffering on quite the scale of Auschwitz, but insist the same basic principle applies). Indeed, this particular author adds that, by supposing evil constitutes good evidence against a good God, the atheist is just assuming there’s no God and thus no wondrous afterlife etc. that more than compensates the evils we experience now. So the atheist’s argument based on suffering is hopelessly circular. Indeed, this author says that atheists who run such an argument need “a course in logic”!

But now here’s where the evil God challenge comes in. All these points made above can be flipped in defence of belief in an evil god. A defender of belief in an evil god can say we can look forward to an afterlife of unremitting terror and suffering, and this will more than compensate us for any good enjoyed now. Moreover, these goods we experience now are actually the price paid for greater evils (I give loads of examples in my paper). Moreover, by assuming that the goods we see around us constitute good evidence against an evil God, the evil-god-rejecter is just assuming there’s no evil God and thus no hellish afterlife that more than ouweighs the goods. So this objection against belief in an evil god is hopelessly circular. Clearly, this critic of the evil god hypothesis needs” a course in logic”!

Now, despite the above moves that might be made in defence of belief in an evil God, it remains pretty obvious that there’s just way, way too much good stuff in the world for this plausibly to be considered the creation of an evil God.

In fact, most of us (except e.g. the skeptical theists) will continue to consider the evil god hypothesis absurd on empirical grounds (whether or not also on other grounds), notwithstanding these rather ridiculous attempts at explaining all the good stuff away.

Of course, none of this is to say that the evil God challenge cannot be met. For example, the author in question might perhaps come up with some really extraordinarily good argument for the existence of a good god, an argument that’s so very, very compelling that it more than outweighs the mountain of evidence against such a god constituted by the vast quantities of horror and suffering we see around us (but boy it’s going to have to be a really good argument!).

But that’s what this particular author needs to do to really meet the evil god challenge. Otherwise, their attempts to deal with the problem of evil have been exposed as hopelessly inadequate. Despite all the dismissive posturing about critics needing a “course in logic”.

So who is the author in question?

He is the author of a book called “The Last Superstition” (see pages 161-165)

That’s to say, it’s you, Edward.

Superior audio recording of my debate with William Lane Craig

Justicar has very kindly produced a much-improved version of the audio of the debate between myself and William Lane Craig. The original audio recording was pretty ropey. This is much better and the blurbs are largely edited out too.

Go here.

I am hoping the video, when released, will have better audio. I was kitted out with two shirt mics plus there were two lectern mikes so I assumed the audio would be fine. It wasn't.

Fumbling Feser

Edward Feser, Catholic philosopher and big fan of Aquinas, wrote a post a year ago explaining why he thinks the evil God challenge doesn't apply to his sort of non-personal, classical God-of-the-philosophers. This is because Aquinas et al demonstrated that anything that's God must be good, given the medieval background metaphysics. Hence an evil god is impossible.

I pointed out that showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant (I also pointed this out in the paper "The Evil God Challenge" which Feser has read). Even if there were a conceptual problem with the idea of an evil God (and there may also be similar problems with the notion of a good God, actually, but let's set that worry to one side), that does not prevent the evil God challenge from being run. Feser still can't understand why, but here's the reason.

Assume an evil God is conceptually impossible. Nevertheless, there might also be powerful empirical evidence against an evil God. In fact there is - far too much good in the world. And if that empirical evidence is sufficient to rule an evil God out beyond reasonable doubt (at least until some very good counter-argument etc. is forthcoming), why then isn't the evil we see sufficient to rule a good god out beyond reasonable doubt(at least until some very good counter-argument etc. is forthcoming)?

Some have objected that if something is ruled out conceptually, then it makes no sense to suppose there could also be empirical evidence against it. But it seems there can.

For example, William Lane Craig's cosmological argument relies on the thought that an infinitely old universe is a conceptual impossibility. Yet Craig also thinks there's also good empirical evidence that the universe is not infinitely old (i.e. evidence for a Big Bang). So he, for one, accepts that something that's ruled out conceptually might also be reasonably ruled out inductively, on the basis of empirical observation.

Anyhoo, Feser has responded again, in a post called "Broken Law", repeating the same old points. So I thought I'd call this post "Fumbling Feser" in reply. As Feser continues to fumble and drop the ball on the evil God challenge. He continues to maintain it just "doesn't apply" to his classical God. In fact, it does apply. Which is not to say it cannot be met (perhaps even by the construction of a cogent demonstrative proof of the existence of a good God, whether personal or non-personal, perhaps even in the style of Aquinas).

So here's my latest comment on his "Broken Law" post...

Hi Edward

You say:

"Suppose, finally, that you also think there are demonstrative (as opposed to merely inductive or evidential) arguments for the existence of the God of classical theism -- that you endorse an Aristotelian argument from motion to a purely actual Unmoved Mover, say, or Aquinas’s “existence argument” in On Being and Essence for something that is subsistent being itself, or a Neo-Platonic argument for a source of the world that is an absolute unity. If such arguments work at all, then given the background metaphysics, they prove conclusively (and not merely with some degree of probability) that there is a God who cannot in principle be anything less than perfectly good."

Perhaps you have such an argument. In setting out the challenge, I don't claim you don't. This is the bit you still don't understand. The evil God challenge is a challenge. Perhaps the above meets it. Perhaps not. But the above does not show that that the challenge does not apply, i.e. because if correct it shows an evil god is impossible.

Showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant, for the reasons I explained and which you still don't get.

Demonstrating there's a good god IS relevant, but it is simply a way of meeting the challenge, rather than showing it "does not apply".

You may think this is a fine distinction that doesn't matter much, but it does matter. Because it leaves the very powerfully formulated version of the problem of evil set up via the evil god challenge still on the table, rather than just swept aside on the grounds it "doesn't apply".

Do your medieval "demonstrations" that few philosophers find persuasive really carry much weight against my otherwise overwhelming empirical evidence that your God does not exist?

We'd need to examine them and find out. Though, as I say, the verdict of the philosophical community is already in.

I know you think that's because most philosophers don't really understand them. Actually, I am pretty familiar with arguments of your sort. I've even read your book on Aquinas.

In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your classical God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.

As a response to the problem of evil - and my evil god challenge - that's obviously hopelessly question-begging.

POSTSCRIPT: The moral is, if you think you can ignore the evil god challenge because you think you can show a priori that an evil god is impossible, think again. That does NOT deal with the challenge. Feser's objection is just an illustration of this more general error.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God coming through your letter box soon

I just got a newspaper though my front door (in Oxford) called City News, with a red top and front page splash about benefit cheats and scroungers. As you read through it, it starts to dawn on you that this might not be a free newspaper, but an advert of some sort.

It reads just like a paper. But there are references to something called UCKG, and how it has helped people out of welfare dependency, saving the Government millions. On the back page there's a full page spread promoting events round the country, at centres around the country, of the UCKG.

The UCKG is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The UCKG has been linked with charges of fraud, tax evasion, extracting money from the poor and directing it to church leaders, money laundering, child demonic-possession cases, and the appalling death of Victoria Climbie (see the wiki page on the church for details).

The UCKG is a focus of cult watcher Rick Ross. Go here for a long list of worrying reports.

There have also been charges of whipping up hatred against Catholics, and even pretending to be the Catholic Church.

If I had a scanner, I'd scan in a few pages of the newspaper so you could take a look....

STOP PRESS. I just found this video below. Note the references to curing cancer and creating wealth through prayer.

It's a different version of the paper to the one I got. The following video is kind of interesting. The Brazilian founder of the church appears part way though explaining to his followers how to con people out of their money, "Either you give or you go to hell!".

POSTSCRIPT. INCIDENTALLY... the UCKG has charitable status in the UK. The Charity Commission said, after their investigation of UCKG in 2003 (following the Victoria Climbie affair - Victoria was taken to the UCKG by her aunt Kouao, where she was seen by Pastor Lima. The Public Inquiry report said: "Pastor Lima expressed the view that Victoria was possessed by an evil spirit and advised Kouao to bring Victoria back to the church a week later." Victoria was tortured to death by her aunt and her boyfriend within a week), that it found no evidence that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God claimed to be able to heal individuals or purge them of demons. Rick Ross's cult watch website says that on the same day the CC reported: "Despite the charity regulator's ruling the churches' website was today advertising "strong prayer to destroy witchcraft, demon-possession" - an apparent reference to exorcism."

Feser's criticsm of the "Evil God Challenge"

Edward Feser thinks he has shown my evil God challenge doesn't apply to his god. I explained why he was mistaken ages ago, promised him a further response to his response but then never got round to it. Hence he posed this.

Well, I have now explained in the comments section in some detail why Edward is just mistaken (see comments on 11th and 12th nov 2011). I will post something here as his confusion is a quite common (even more common now, thanks to Edward).

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Evil God challenge - skeptical theist response

I just put this comment as a reply to a comment made on the preceding post. As it's so long, and contains some details that may be of interest to others, I am also posting it here...

Hi Brigadier

The Evil God Challenge is supposed to be a challenge. The challenge is to explain why belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god. Craig tried to meet the challenge, but failed. I see you are coming close to admitting that he failed, as you are now attempting to bolster his arguments with additional arguments of your own.

Do your arguments succeed?


I said earlier about intuitions generally that: "you can't just drop them without adequate justification."

You agreed, but said about our intuition that there’s more than enough empirical evidence to reasonably rule out an evil god: “Sure, but the point is that once you realize certain metaphysical/logical distinctions of which you were previously unaware, then you also realize that your intuitions, because insensitive to such distinctions, went astray. Your previous intuitions then cannot be used as justification for your beliefs.”

But that there is reason to reject such intuitions is, at this point, pure assertion! You need to justify your claim that this particular intuition is unreliable. And what is your justification? It’s this:

“God knows a lot more than I do; ergo, God knows a lot more about morality than I do; ergo, there are probably a lot more moral properties than I realize. But if that is true, I can't claim with confidence that none of these properties form the justifying goods for the many evils for which we cannot find apparent justification.”

This obviously won’t do as it stands. Suppose aliens of vastly greater intellectual and other powers visit earth. They kill and eat our kids. We watch as they parade with our with our kids’ heads stuck on poles, while sucking the marrow out of their bones. They makes us watch. We say: “Why, these aliens are terrible, evil things!” But someone says. “Ah, but they know a lot more than we do. Ergo they know a lot more about morality (especially the long term moral consequences of their actions) than we do. But then we cannot claim with confidence that there aren’t moral properties unknown to us but known to the aliens that form justifying good for the many evils they do for which we cannot find apparent justification.”

You will have to agree with that assessment, given the argument you just gave above. You must say, “Why yes, how silly of me – I now see my initial response was just an unreliable intuition resulting from my ignorance of certain metaphysical/logical distinctions. In fact, there’s no good empirical evidence that these aliens aren’t entirely caring, benevolent beings.” This would be a borderline insane response I’d suggest. And also bullshit.

Of course (I’m now doing your work for you), you might now try a different argument, perhaps one that stresses God’s *infinite* wisdom, which aliens, being finite beings, will lack. But why would introducing infinite wisdom transform your ludicrous argument into a good one? Why would that fact that God has infinite wisdom, if he exists, mean there’s no limit to the horror that can exist in the world without it being pretty good evidence there’s no such god? Argument please.

Remember, it’s not good enough to show, what is obviously true, that if there’s such a God, there will probably be some evils the justifying good for which will be unknown to us. You need to establish much more than that before you can justifiably sweep hundreds of millions of years of horror - e.g. of animals that must tear each other limb from limb to survive, of millions of generations of children about a third to a half of whom died slowly and agonizingly of disease or starvation before the age of five - under the carpet of “god’s mysterious ways”.

Incidentally, I also note that Craig’s cosmological argument relies on the claim that actual infinities are impossible. Which is why infinity doesn’t crop up in Craig’s characterization of God (so far as I can see). So this “infinite wisdom” move would appear to be blocked in any case - if I've understood him correctly.

Earlier I said:

"Also notice, by the way, that … the skepticism you're invoking to save your God belief from being empirically falsified would seem to be ridiculously endemic. It spreads to other beliefs. For example, it then follows we can't know God doesn't have good reasons for making it look like the world is older than 6k years even though it's not. So, show a little faith and stick to the scripture!"

You, Brigadier, have just replied to this: “I deny this follows because we can see that some things, such as lying, are intrinsically wrong, and will only be justified in very special cases, if at all, and that none of these cases will apply to God. Greater goods are relevant to extrinsic wrongs.”

You seem to be suggesting that God’s making a world that looks as it does, if it is 6k years old, would involve him lying. And God wouldn’t lie. I now reply: Who says God would be lying if he made a world that looks like it's much older than it's actual 6k years? Was he lying when he made a world that looks like it doesn’t move? No.

So, your counter-intuitive and inadequately justified skepticism regarding the possibility of us reasonably ruling out various god hypothesis on the basis of empirical evidence also has the apparent further absurd consequence that you have no good empirical reason to reject Young Earth Creationism. Your belief that the empirical evidence undermines YEC is, it turns out, just an “unreliable intuition”! One that Wykstra et al have shown to mistaken. You should abandon that mere intuition!

I might also add that, if this implausible degree of skepticism were adopted, then we would not be in a position reasonably to conclude on the basis of observation that mice are not the thing that God values most. True, this may not seem like the kind of world a mice-valuing God would create (it’s not sufficiently mice-friendly or mice-centered). But, for all we know, God’s apparent utter disregard for the well-being of mice, and, indeed, apparent sadism towards them (cats etc.), is really no evidence at all that he doesn’t value mice above everything else.

This degree of skepticism would be a wholly implausible, ad hoc way of salvaging belief in a mice-centered God from empirical refutation. It’s no less an implausible, ad hoc way of salvaging your belief in a human-centered or good-centered God.

One last thing. You continue to ignore my point that, in any case, even if skeptical theism COULD be shown to be true, it goes NO WAY AT ALL towards showing why belief in a good god is very significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief in an evil god. So it goes NO WAY AT ALL toward answering the evil god challenge.

But in any case I note that we have now strayed way beyond the parameters of anything Craig said in the debate or above. Craig has clearly failed to meet the evil god challenge.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Craig's website response re our debate

This response to my evil god challenge has recently appeared on William Lane Craig’s website, after our debate. It’s posted in full below. With my comments in bold. The post takes the form of Craig responding to a question emailed by a fan.


Dr. Craig this is a simple question in regards to your debate with Stephen Law.
Suppose someone hypothetically argued for an Evil God that exists. Could one use the "Problem of Good" as an objection, just as Non-Theists use the "Problem of Evil" against theism?

Would all the arguments such as Plantinga's Free Will Defense be flipped around, and actually work against the problem of good?

So far, it truly does appear that Evil is a privation of good, and the arguments used to counter the "Problem of Good" against an Evil God do not work very well as a refutation.


BTW notice Craig never responds re the comment on flipping Plantinga's free will defence (which applies only to the logical problem of evil, and not this one, as Craig knows) or re. the "privation" view of evil, which I don't think Craig subscribes to (it's more of a Catholic thing)? Craig just ignores those bits of the email.

Dr. Craig responds:

Cornell, I’m grateful for your question because I think it’s very easy to misunderstand Stephen Law’s “evil god” objection as a result of conflating distinct questions.

First, let’s begin with the cosmological and teleological arguments. If successful, these give us a Creator and Designer of the universe. Notice, however, that they do not tell us much or anything about the moral character of the Creator/Designer. In my popular talks, I sometimes put this point by saying that the Creator/Designer might be an absolute stinker, for all we know!


That’s why, by the way, the widespread objection to Intelligent Design based on the cruelties of Nature is worthless. As I point out in my debate with Francisco Ayala, one might as well argue that a medieval torture rack does not need an intelligent designer because anyone who would make such a thing couldn’t be a very nice person.

Precisely because the cosmological and teleological arguments say little or nothing about the moral character of the Creator/Designer, they are immune to the atheist’s most important argument, the problem of evil and suffering. They are therefore powerful components of a cumulative case for theism. They cannot be ignored.

But that’s just what Stephen Law did in the debate. His response to these arguments, as you saw, is simply to say that even if successful, these arguments do not prove the existence of God, since in order to infer that the Creator/Designer is God, one has to prove that He is good. But for all we know from these arguments, the Creator/Designer could be evil. This is NOT, however, the “evil god” objection.

Actually, the evil god objection does apply here, as I clearly explained both during the debate and in the academic paper. These arguments provide no more support to belief in a good god than belief in an evil god. So, given belief in an evil god is absurd, why should we suppose belief in a good god more reasonable, not withstanding the cosmological and teleological arguments?

Law is merely noting the incompleteness of the theist’s case so far: we’ve got a Creator/Designer, but we’ve as yet no reason to think Him good and therefore God.

BTW Craig defines God as good. Hence, if I establish beyond reasonable doubt that there’s no good god, then I have established there’s no God, as Craig defines God. That was my aim. Of course you can retreat to a deist god if you like. But that's not Craig's god.

In the debate, Law made the remarkable claim that the cosmological and teleological arguments are not even part of a cumulative case for theism!

No that is simply not true. I said they make equally as cumulative a case for an evil god. As Craig actually just admitted above. So the challenge I put to Craig is to explain why, if belief in an evil god is absurd, notwithstanding the cosmological and teleological arguments, belief in a good god is not similarly absurd. That is the evil god challenge.

This is clearly wrong. The probability of God’s existence given the evidence for a Creator/Designer of the universe is obviously higher than without it. To borrow Tim McGrew’s illustration, suppose you’re expecting an afternoon visit from a friend in the military. That afternoon your wife tells you, “There’s a man coming up the walk.” Do you shrug this off with the comment, “Oh, well, it could be anybody!” She then says, “He’s wearing a uniform!” Should you respond, “Well, maybe it’s a policeman” and continue to go about your affairs? Of course not! The probability that your friend has arrived, though not certain by any means, is definitely higher given your wife’s testimony than it would have been without it. It is thus part of a cumulative case for the conclusion that your friend has arrived, and it would be folly to ignore it. Similarly, the probability that God exists is much higher given the evidence for a Creator/Designer than it is in the absence of such evidence.

Even if correct, this is as much evidence for an evil god as for a good god. So why think belief in a good god is more reasonable than belief in an evil god. That’s the evil god challenge. Craig has so far entirely failed to meet it. When is Craig going to get to the reasons for believing in a good god, I wonder... ah here it comes...sort of....

So what argument does the natural theologian give for thinking that the Creator/Designer is good? Here Law mistakenly seems to think that the theist arrives at the conclusion that the Creator/Designer is good by an inductive survey of the world’s events.

No. I don’t do that. I explained why in my first rebuttal. Craig is simply choosing to ignore what I said and continuing to attack a straw man.

Seeing all the goods in the world, the theist supposedly infers that the Creator/Designer is (perfectly) good.

Of course Christians don’t do that. Obviously. Craig is still attacking a straw man.

That assumption is simply incorrect.

Yes, it is. Good job I don’t make it.

As Michael Bergmann and Jeff Brower point out in their response to Law, “no traditional theists we know of have ever argued for God’s perfect goodness . . . by simply inferring it from the existence of some good in the world.”i They conclude that Law hasn’t “done anything to touch, much less undermine, traditional belief in the existence of a being which is at once all-powerful and all-good.

Yes, Bergmann and Brouwer got quite the wrong end of the stick re my evil God challenge. I am asking – what is the case for supposing there’s not just a creator, but a good one? Please explains why belief in a good god is reasonable, or not unreasonable, while belief in an evil god remains downright absurd? Craig has still not yet given us an answer... it doesn’t have to be an empirically-based case. Obviously.

If Law wants to mount a real attack on traditional theism, he will need at the very least to engage some of the actual support that has been given . . . for belief in God’s goodness, explaining why it fails, rather than completely ignoring it.”ii

Right. I asked Craig to give it...

What many natural theologians, including myself, do to justify belief in the perfect goodness of the Creator/Designer proved by the cosmological and teleological arguments is to offer various moral arguments for God. In so doing, one needn’t appeal to the good in the world at all; one can instead point to instances of objective moral evil.

Right. Finally we get to a supposed reason for supposing belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god, which even Craig admits is absurd. Notice that all of the preceding text was irrelevant so far as meeting the evil god challenge is concerned.

So, in our debate, I argued:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, objective moral values exist. (Some things are evil!)
4. Therefore, God exists.

Law takes almost no cognizance in his published work of such an argument for God as the foundation of objective moral values and duties. All I could find is the brief comment: “it remains possible that a cogent moral argument along the above lines might yet be constructed. I suspect that . . . this is the most promising line of attack [for theists to take].”iii I concur.

Like Professor Richard Swinburne (a far more widely and highly rated and pre-eminent philosopher than Craig) and several other Christian philosophers, I find Craig's moral argument, and indeed all moral arguments for the existence of God, utterly unconvincing. Hence I don't bother with them much

It’s worth noting that Law agrees with premiss (2) because he is a moral realist.

This is a little sneaky. I was very clear that I agree objective moral values exist up until I am shown reason to believe the first premise is true (which Craig never supplied). At that point, the rational thing for me to do, given overwhelming empirical evidence there’s no god (as Craig defines god), is to give up on moral realism. I explained all this not once but three times in the debate. In my second rebuttal, the QandA and in my summary too. Craig ignored what I said on the night and has here also just ignored what I said.

So in order to resist the force of this argument, he must deny (1).

No, as I just pointed out and pointed out three times in the debate, given the truth of the first premise and overwhelming evidence against the existence of a good god, the rational conclusion to draw is that there are no objective moral values. I might not like that conclusion very much. And it is counterintuitive. But, hey, sometimes we have to give up what seemed intuitively obvious, such as that the earth does not move, in the face of powerful evidence to the contrary.

Here's what I said about this in the debate. It's verbatim. Notice how Craig continues to ignore the point.

What of the second premise of Craig’s moral argument? Objective moral values exist.

This is undoubtedly a belief that just seems obviously true. But of course that doesn’t guarantee it is true.

Yes it seems like there are objective moral values. That isn’t a belief we should abandon easily. But it’s by no means irrefutable.

After all, we have a powerful impression that the Earth doesn’t move. It really, really doesn’t seem to move. But if we’re given powerful evidence that it does move, and it’s also explained why it nevertheless seems like it doesn’t, then the rational thing for us to believe is that our initial, highly convincing impression was wrong.

The moral is, even if Professor Craig could show his first premise is true, he can’t deal with the problem of evil by just digging in his heels and saying, “But look, it really, really seems to us as if there are objective moral values, so there must be a God.”

When placed next to the problem of evil, Craig’s argument does little to undermine the problem. Rather, it just combines with it to deliver the conclusion that there are no objective moral values.

That conclusion would be further reinforced by an evolutionary explanation of why it would still seem to us that there are objective moral values even if there aren’t.

Now I don’t doubt Professor Craig doesn’t want to believe there are no objective moral values. Hey, I don’t want to believe it. But this isn’t an exercise in wishful thinking.

So, even if its first premise were true, Craig’s moral argument still hardly offers much of a riposte to the evidential problem of evil.

But on this score, he has very little to offer by way of explanation of objective moral values and duties in an atheistic universe. Indeed, after presenting the old Euthyphro dilemma,...

Incidentally, I never presented the Euthyphro dilemma in the debate. Some wonder why. The answer is that Craig’s version of theism is immune to it (at least in it’s simplest form). Against Craig, I used different arguments, which Craig is now choosing to ignore (see above).

...he admits, “None of this is to deny that there is

a puzzle about the objectivity of morality—about how it is possible for things to be morally right or wrong independently of how we, or even God, might judge them to be.”iv

But he has no solution to this puzzle to offer.

This is all irrelevant. Craig needs to show his premises are true to make a case for a specifically good god. The onus is not on me to show the first premise is false. Hell, I could admit it’s true, and still Craig’s argument fails to produce much of a response to the evidential problem of evil, as I just pointed out. And pointed out three times in the debate. Note that, even if Craig can show his first premise is true, he faces a mountain of empirical evidence against the good god hypothesis. That mountain of evidence, when combined with the first premise, just delivers the conclusion there are no objective moral values.

But anyway, what is Craig’s argument for the truth of premise 1?

Then he notes the theistic solution: “suppose that ‘God’ refers, not to the creator of this yardstick, but to the yardstick itself . . . then to admit that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong is just to admit that God exists. . . .”v That’s absolutely right! So what’s his objection to the theistic solution? He says, “this is a very thin understanding of what ‘God’ means.”vi This objection is based on a confusion between semantics and ontology. The theist isn’t offering a definition of what the word “God” means. The theist is claiming that God, in all His fullness, is the paradigm of moral value.

Yes, but, as Craig says, this is just a claim, isn't it? Why suppose the yardstick is a god? What's the argument both that there's such a yardstick and it can only be the Judeo-Christian, Craig-type God? It's a huge leap from "There's an objective moral yardstick" to "The Judeo-Christian God exists." Even if the case for the yardstick could be made. What Christian's need to ask themselves, reading this, is, what is Craig's actual argument for his first premise?

God is the yardstick of moral value.

This is pure assertion.

By contrast Law more or less admits that the atheist has no explanation of the existence of the objective moral values and duties that we both apprehend.

I didn't and don't admit that. And I am still waiting for the argument that there can be no objective moral values if Craig's god does not exist. Where is it? And in any case, as I have just pointed out, to be effective, the evil god challenge does not require that the atheist provide an account of objective moral duties/values. The atheist can be a moral nihilist.

So far, the “evil god” objection has yet to appear on the scene. We have simply been discussing what grounds the theist might offer for thinking that God exists, i.e., that there is a perfectly good Creator/Designer of the universe.

What grounds? Craig just gave us an argument widely condemned even by some leading theists (e.g. Swinburne), and failed to support his premises, esp. premise (1). And, as I have pointed out, even if the first premise could be shown to be true, the argument is still almost entirely useless as a riposte to the evidential problem of evil.

It is at this juncture that Law raises the problem of evil. As we agreed in the debate, this problem can be stated in non-moral terms by substituting “suffering” for “evil.”

Yes, so I hope Craig will now stop insisting that he has a wonderful, knock-down refutation of the problem of evil. As he does here, for example... First year philosophers learn that this is a hopeless solution to the problem of evil, but Craig continues to repeat this stuff because he knows a lot of gullible, philosophically-unsophisticated theists will fall for it and go away thinking “Why, the problem of evil has been solved!”

The objection is that the suffering in the world provides, in Law’s words, “overwhelming evidence“ that God does not exist. For an all-powerful, all-good being, it is alleged, would not permit the suffering we observe in the world. Therefore, such a being probably does not exist.

Suppose that the theist responds, as I do, by saying that, for all we know, God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove...

I note that the weasel word “prove” crops up here. What does it mean? When Craig gets cornered, his opponents suddenly start having to “prove” things. All I am aiming to do is establish beyond reasonable doubt that Craig’s god does not exist.

The evidential problem of good is: there’s far too much good for it plausibly to put down as the price paid for some greater cosmic evil. Most of us can immediately recognize that this is true.

So, the evidential problem of evil is, similarly, that there’s such vast quantities of seemingly gratuitous evil over hundreds of millions of years that it’s just not plausible that it’s the price paid for some greater good. It's just not plausible that not even an ounce of it is really gratuitous. Is this a "proof"? It's a “proof” only in the sense that, in the absence of any good counter-argument, it gives us very good grounds for supposing there’s no good god (just as the evidential problem of good gives us very good grounds for supposing there’s no evil god). that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that?

I don’t have to prove it beyond pointing out we have very good grounds for supposing it’s true. Which we do. And certainly most of us see this when we consider the evil god hypothesis.

The point is, there’s clearly evidence sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that there’s no evil god. But then why isn’t there evidence sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt there’s no good god? Craig has no answer, yet. Just a bit of sleight of hand with the word “proof”.

God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life. Law would have to show there is a feasible world available to God in which there is a comparable knowledge of God and His salvation but with less suffering. That’s pure speculation.

No, it’s not. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on a mountain of evidence. Most of us know it’s not “pure speculation” to suppose the vast quantities of good we see around us constitute very good evidence there’s no evil god. We can see there’s way too much good for this world plausibly to be considered the creation of such an evil being. So why is it suddenly “pure speculation” to suppose that hundreds of millions of years of appalling suffering is good evidence there’s no god god? After all, as I pointed out in the debate and the paper, an evil god may have his cosmic reasons for allowing good now so that greater evils can be achieved (perhaps even in an afterlife), or whatever! Yet it’s pretty clear that just won’t wash, isn’t it?

It is at this point that the “evil god” objection finally comes to the fore.

No, in the debate, it came to the fore when I was discussing the cosmological and teleological arguments, but Craig has conveniently airbrushed that out as it makes it clearer still why those two arguments are entirely irrelevant so far as an assessment of whether or not I succeeded in establishing beyond reasonable doubt that Craig's god does not exist.

Law’s response to the above is to say that if such a response is tenable, then someone who believes in an evil god could also justifiably say that the goods in the world do not constitute refutation of the existence of such a deity because the evil god could similarly have reasons for permitting all the goods in the world, which Law just takes to be absurd.

A couple of comments: the “evil god” hypothesis is not suggesting that God could be evil. For, by definition, God is a being which is worthy of worship, and so no being which is evil could be God. That’s why Peter Millican, who independently formulated a similar argument, refers to the evil supreme being, not as “God,” but as “anti-God.”vii That is less misleading than Law’s terminology.

Sure, I don’t care what you call him. Though I note that plenty of evil beings have been called gods, historically. This is just semantics.

One can refer to this being as “god” only by using the lower case “g,” as I have done. The idea is that there is a Creator/Designer of the universe who is evil. You can see immediately why this argument, which properly belongs to concerns of theodicy, gets conflated with arguments for God’s goodness.

Big "G", small "g". Frankly. Who cares?

Arguments for god’s goodness? We haven’t had one yet. Except for a highly dodgy one with suspect premises which weren’t even argued for. A moral argument, which would, in any case, even with an established first premise, fail to offer much of a riposte to the evidential problem of evil.

Notice, too, that Law is not giving reasons to think that an evil god exists. On the contrary, it is essential to his argument that such a supposition is absurd.
The claim of the argument is that given the existence of an evil god, it is highly improbable that the goods in the world would exist (Pr (goods½evil god << 0.5)).
Well, that all of them would, yes. There might well still be some.
By the same token, given the existence of God, it is highly improbable that the suffering in the world would exist (Pr (suffering½God << 0.5)). So just as the goods in the world constitute overwhelming evidence against the existence of an evil god, the suffering in the world constitutes overwhelming evidence against the existence of God.

I suspect that Law thinks that theists will try to deny the symmetry between these two cases.

No, not necessarily. Some don't.

But that would be a mistake. The two situations strike me as symmetrical—I would just say that in neither case would we be justified in thinking that the probability is low. Just as a good Creator/Designer could have good reasons for permitting the suffering in the world, so an evil Creator/Designer could have malicious reasons for allowing the goods in the world, precisely for the reasons Law explains. My initial response, then, still holds: we’re just not in a position to make these kinds of probability judgements with any sort of confidence.

Craig has spotted just how much trouble he is in with the evil god challenge, and has decided to play a skeptical card. He insists we just can’t know, on the basis of what we see around us, that there’s no evil god. This could quite easily turn out to be the creation of an all-powerful, all-evil deity, given what we see around us.

Right. Well, I’ve run the evil god challenge many times in front of audiences, and I have often started by asking why an evil god is absurd, and I have on almost every occasion got a mass of nodding heads when I have suggested we can rule this god out on the basis of what we observe around us. Even when the audience is almost entirely Christian.

It’s only later, when the repercussions of this are realized for Christianity, that Christians suddenly get highly skeptical about what conclusions can be drawn on the basis of what we see around us. As Craig has here.

So now notice that, if he is to salvage his belief in the reasonableness of belief in a God god, he must do several things.

First, he must justify this very radical skepticism. It’s counter-intuitive. The onus is clearly on him to explain why we should suppose that it’s unreasonable to reject belief in an evil god on the basis of what we see around us. So what’s his justification?

In our debate Law seemed flat-footed in the face of this response. He takes it as just obvious that an evil god would not permit the goods we see in the world—look at the rainbows, look at the children, etc.!

Actually, almost everyone does find it obvious, until the consequences for theism are realized.

But this is no better than the atheist who takes it to be just obvious that the suffering in the world would not be permitted by God—look at the tsunamis, look at the Holocaust, etc. This sort of response is basically an appeal to emotions and fails to grapple with the fact that a Creator/Designer of the world could well have sufficient reasons for permitting what he does.

Appeal to emotions? Eh? We have an emotional response, yes. That does not make it irrational. Any more than the fact Craig has an emotional response to the thought that Jesus loves him makes that belief irrational. This is pure rhetoric from Craig.

“...the fact that a Creator/Designer of the world could well have sufficient reasons for permitting what he does.” So where is the argument to support this? Here it comes…

I was gratified that other theists—like Steve Wykstra, Dan Howard-Snyder, and Mike Rea—who have specialized in the problem of evil share my assessment.

Yes and plenty of theists who specialize on the problem don’t share Craig’s assessment. Craig is here slipping in an argument from authority. Which he himself condemns. And condemned in our debate, funnily enough, when I pointed out Richard Swinburne, one of the top two or three philosophers of religion in the world, and a Christian, find Craig’s argument utterly unonconvincing. “That’s an argument from authority!” complained Craig. The irony.

Wykstra, for example, wrote:

any being (good or evil) big enough to make the heavens and the earth gives a high conditional probability that we'd regularly be unable to discern that being's ultimate purposes for many events around us. So our actual . . . inability to do so isn't strong evidence that those purposes (or that being) isn't there. . . . Just as the inscrutable evil in the world doesn't give much evidence that there's no totally good creator, so the inscrutable good in the world doesn't give much evidence that there's no totally evil Creator.viii

The point is that once you posit the existence of an evil Creator/Designer of the cosmos, all bets are off.

Yes, of course, if there’s a good/evil cosmic being there will probably be quite a few events the good/evil reasons for which we cannot understand. But that obviously doesn't establish that NO amount of good or horror, no matter how much, will always fail to provide us with ANY SIGNIFICANT EVIDENCE AT ALL that there’s no good/evil god. Which is what Craig would need to show in order to immunize his God belief against empirical refutation. He hasn’t shown that.

And in fact most of us have the very powerful starting intuition that there is in fact more than enough good stuff in the world for us to be able reasonably to rule out an evil god. So why not a good god?

But look, let's suppose that Craig and the skeptical theists like Wykstra are right. Suppose Craig did actually manage to construct a good supporting argument for his intuitively implausible skepticism. How would that help him, so far as meeting the evil god challenge is concerned, i.e. in terms of showing that a good god is significantly more reasonable than the absurd evil god hypothesis is concerned?

It wouldn't. Given Craig accepts the evil god hypothesis is absurd, he still faces the challenge of having to raise the reasonableness of the good god hypothesis from a base of being level-pegging with the downright absurd evil god hypothesis all the way up to "pretty reasonable'. And all he has to do that, here, is his moral argument. Which, as presented above, is pretty useless. So even adopting Wykstra-style skeptical theism doesn't help Craig much so far as dealing with the evil god challenge is concerned.

Craig ends with a final note...

One final note: I talked earlier about reasons to think that the Creator/Designer of the universe is good.

Yes. We were given one highly contentious argument with a dubious first premise for which no supporting argument was given, and which, even if the first premise was true, would fail to offer any sort of significant riposte to the problem of evil.

Suppose we concede for the sake of argument that an evil Creator/Designer exists. Since this being is evil, that implies that he fails to discharge his moral obligations.

We don’t even have to say he’s evil, as Craig himself has almost conceded. We can just say – he likes suffering.

But where do those come from? How can this evil god have duties to perform which he is violating? Who forbids him to do the wrong things that he does?

This just assumes Craig has good moral argument for God. But we are still waiting to see what it is.

Immediately, we see that such an evil being cannot be supreme: there must be a being who is even higher than this evil god and is the source of the moral obligations which he chooses to flout, a being which is absolute goodness Himself. In other words, if Law’s evil god exists, then God exists.

Entirely question begging – as this assumes Craig has a good moral argument.

Overall assessment: Craig has no decent response to the evil God challenge. He tried (i) playing the skeptical card, insisting that empirical observation can give us no grounds for supposing there’s no good or evil god. This is (a) implausible, and (b) received no decent supporting argument. In addition, (c) even if Craig could establish that kind of skepticism, the onus would STILL be on him to show why belief in Craig’s good God is significantly more reasonable than (the absurd) belief in an evil God. And what was his argument…

It was a moral argument that: (a) is widely rejected, even by some leading Christian philosophers, (b) has dodgy first premise for which Craig has here failed to provide any supporting argument, and (c) even if the first premise could be established, fails to produce an argument that constitutes much of a riposte to the evidential problem of evil. When combined with the evidential problem of evil, the first premise merely delivers the conclusion that there are no objective moral values. Which is counter-intuitive. But hey, that’s doesn’t mean it’s not true. Sometimes reason leads us to abandon beliefs that really seemed to be true (e.g. the earth is stationary).

On the basis of the arguments presented here, it’s almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that Craig’s god belief has, indeed, been straightforwardly empirically refuted. He’s failed to deal with the argument against (he’s just played a counter-intuitive and unjustified skeptical card) and his argument for why belief in a good god is more reasonable than the absurd belief in an evil god was his moral argument – which has a dodgy and unargued-for first premise and which, even if the first premise could be shown to be true, still spectacularly fails to deal with the evidential problem of evil

William Lane Craig is a talented and highly skilled debater who travels the world doing his best to shore up the faith of Christians and provide them with ammunition against atheists and skeptics (such as “evil proves god” - a move that Craig himself conceded in the debate fails to deal with the problem of evil, but which I guarantee we’ll see trotted out again in future debates, because it’s good rhetoric).

Craig's an OK philosopher, though he likes to stick to his scripted answers rather than think on his feet, when he can get out of his depth if someone takes a line for which Craig has no script (which is why he is always weaker in QandA sessions - see e.g. the Shelley Kagan debate). Debating Craig is a little like talking to someone who is trying to sell you double-glazing down the phone. Almost any comeback from you is already anticipated, with a scripted response, and a response to your likely response. So he sounds very, very confident and polished. Spend 20 mins on the phone with the double glazing guy, and you'll find his script allows no other ultimate response than the one he wants - "Why yes, I'd like to buy double glazing".

It's a similar experience debating Craig. I spent a lot of time mapping his responses in advance, and little he said on the night was new. The thing about the evil god challenge is, it did pull him off his usual script a little bit - or at least made it look rather threadbare. Especially in the QandA. That Craig's got remarkably little in the way of response to the evil god challenge is apparent in the text above. There's very little argument - just assertion. As to who won - make up your own minds...

BTW I also think Craig’s a genuine guy, though some of his views (on atheists, the Canaanites, and hell) are not just nutty but really odious.

Still, while he may be a philosopher, the above is a remarkably weak response to the evil god challenge.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Gig in Oxford, Thursday evening

My band the Heavy Dexters playing here tomorrow night:

260 Banbury Rd Oxford OX2 7DX.
8.30pm - 10.15pm.Tel. 01865 554484

Notes on "Morality without religion has no firm foundation"

Here are some notes I used for the debate: “Morality without religion has no firm foundation”

Notice the focus of this debate is not on god. God gets no mention. The question is specifically about religion. The question before us is: can morality have a firm foundation in the absence of religion. And so it’s on religion that I shall focus.

I think the answer is pretty clearly yes – morality can have at least as firm a foundation in the absence of religion as it can with it.

I want to start by outlining an alternative, non-religious approach to morality which I think is preferable to most traditional, religious approaches.

What are the characteristics of humanism?

1. First, humanists don’t believe in a God. They are atheists, or at least agnostics.

2. Secondly, humanists, like many sensible religious folk, are secularists. They favour an open, democratic society in which the state takes a neutral position with respect to religion.

3. Thirdly, humanists sign up to the idea that morality should focus on achieving human flourishing in this life, rather than on achieving fulfilment in some mythical life-to-come. Obviously they deny that morality is a matter of obeying the commands of supernatural beings, or doing good because of threats of divine punishment. However, there is no specific humanist theory of moral value. Some humanists are utilitarians, but plenty are not. Some are Kantians. And some even reject naturalism.

4. Fourthly, humanists believe in the importance of a certain kind of moral autonomy. They believe people should be encouraged to think and question, and ultimately make their own judgements about what is right or wrong, rather than defer to some external authority – be it religious or political – that will make the judgement for them.

Religions, by contrast, have typically placed far greater emphasis on deference to authority – to a text, a prophet, a leader, or a tradition whose pronouncements are to be accepted more or less without question.

Of course there are plenty of fairly liberal-minded clerics around today who would sign up to the Enlightenment ideal, but many don’t.

The mainstream religions have long track record of attempting to stifle dissent, shutting down and censoring criticism. Of dissuading children from asking certain sorts of “difficult” question.

A friend of mine, no longer a Catholic, tells me that, even today, half a century after her education at the hands of a traditional Catholic school, she still feels guilty if she dares to question a Catholic belief.

Many religions have, historically, focused on instilling such unquestioning, deferential attitudes among the faithful. In many places, they still do.

Visit the US Bible belt and you will find church signs that read “A free thinker is Satan’s slave”.

Indeed, Christian Churches have a long track record of attempting to stifle dissent and criticism by violent means.

Holy Inquisition last victim. Ancient history! Actually, the last victim died in 1824 – just over four of my lifetimes ago. Our freedom to question or reject religious teaching is a very recently won and precious freedom that we shouldn’t just assume will now be around forever.

And of course we’re not just talking about Christian obsession with thought-control. A poll conducted a few years ago of Young British Muslims found that 33% of them thought the appropriate penalty for anyone who leaves the Muslim faith is death.

Even today, several Muslim theocracies will execute anyone who leaves the Muslim faith.

Of course, atheists, too, have had a violent obsession with policing people’s thoughts. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were all concerned with forcing atheism on people.

But of course, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, while atheists, weren’t humanists. They certainly didn’t value moral autonomy – on encouraging individuals to think and question, any more than did the Holy Inquisition. You can’t blame humanism for the killing fields of Cambodia.

Now here’s what I think is an important advantage of a humanist approach to moral education over both authoritarian atheist approaches and traditional religious approaches.

It’s sometimes said that what motivated those who helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust was their religious conviction. In fact, religious conviction had little….

Philosopher Jonathan Glover says:

If you look at the people who shelter Jews under the Nazis, you find a number of things about them. One is that they tended to have a different kind of upbringing from the average person, they tended to be brought up in a non-authoritarian way, bought up to have sympathy with other people and to discuss things rather than just do what they were told.

Oliners: it was on their emphasis on reasoning in talking about morality with their children that marked out rescuers from non-rescuers. By contrast, the Oliners found that “religiosity was only weakly related to rescue”.

So, if we want to immunize future generations against this sort of moral catastrophe, this evidence at least suggest that our best bet is NOT to rely on religion, but on an approach to moral education that, as it happens, is promoted by humanism.

Evidence that in fact it’s not a religious upbringing that’s required for a firm moral foundation, but the kind of philosophical approach promoted and practices by humanists.

Of course, there are plenty of liberal-minded religious folk who would endorse humanist view. So I don’t say this is an advantage over every form of religious upbringing. But it is far better, I’d suggest, than many forms of traditional religious upbringing - those that, too this day, still tend to dominate around much of the world.

In fact, what many religions encourage people to do cannot be done. Convenient though it might be, I cannot hand over responsibility for making moral judgements to some text, or prophet, or tradition. For suppose my chosen religious moral expert tells me to do some dreadful thing – to go a blow myself up in a supermarket, or slaughter every last Canaanite, say.

Clearly, if I do as I am told, I remain culpable. I can’t absolve myself of responsibility, by saying “But I was just obeying orders”, as I could if I’d been given bad chemical or medical advice, say. Morality is different. We all have an unavoidable responsibility to think and make our own judgement. It’s worth listening to others, even to religious people, for their advice. But, like it or not, you must take responsibility for making the judgements you do.

You have to choose which religion if any to follow, which interpretation of that religion, which leader, and so on. You have to decide whether you ought to follow the advice they give you. And in making that judgement you inevitably have to rely on your own moral compass.

So, like it or not, we do all have to make our own moral judgements. The supposed “firm foundation” that religions provide in the form of ancient texts, or gurus, or prophets, or religions, or traditions, to which can turn for moral certainties, are really not firm at all.

At the end of the day, we all - religious or not - have to make our own moral judgements, relying on our own moral intuitions and sense of what is right and wrong – which are themselves open to question. Better we face up to this fact rather than pretend it is not so.

But isn’t it clear that loss of religion has caused a great many social ills? That religion is necessary if morality is to flourish properly?

No. There’s no good evidence to support that view.


1. Co-occurrence doesn’t establish causal connection. Many other changes: homes stand empty. People don’t know their neighbours or community.

2. 200 years ago 50 times more crime in UK than there is now. Yet far more religious.

3. When we look across world’s developed democracies, we find that those that are most religious – including, of course, the United States (where 43% of citizens claim to attend church weekly) – have the highest rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease (STD), teen pregnancy and abortion. The least religious countries, such as Canada, Japan and Sweden, have the lowest rates.

4. As historian Francis Fukuyama points out, China also provides an important counter-example to the view that moral order depends on religion:

The dominant cultural force in traditional Chinese society was, of course, Confucianism, which is not a religion at all but rather a rational, secular ethical doctrine. The history of China is replete with instances of moral decline and moral renewal, but none of these is linked particularly to anything a Westerner would call religion. And it is hard to make the case that levels of ordinary morality are lower in Asia than in parts of the world dominated by transcendental religion.

5. To other cultures widespread Western assumption that people won’t be good without belief in God is baffling. Chinese writer Lin Yu Tang”:

To the West, it seems hardly imaginable that the relationship between man and man (morality) could be maintained without reference to a Supreme Being, while to the Chinese it is equally amazing that men should not, or could not, behave toward one another as decent beings without thinking of their indirect relationship through a third party.

6. Our basic morality is a pretty much universal feature of human societies, religious or not.

In many societies, morality has had little to do with religion, and yet those societies, while obviously not always perfect, have hardly been less moral than, say, their Christian or Muslim counterparts. Indeed, we find much the same basic morality.

Religion, it turns out, did not create morality. Rather, religions take a basic morality that is there anyway, probably written into our genes, and then rigidly codifies it and adds a few prohibitions of its own, usually concerning some foodstuffs and sexual practices. Then it says, “Voila! Religion has created morality!”

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

debate tonight in Farnham, Surrey 8pm


“Morality without religion has no firm foundation”.

1. The debate will take place on Tuesday 1st November at South Farnham School, Menin Way, Farnham, Surrey GU9 8DY at 7.45pm, (actual introduction and debate starts at 8.00pm), ending promptly at 10.00pm. We will arrange to collect you from the station or, if you prefer, we can send you some maps and directions.

2. The motion is “Morality without religion has no firm foundation”.

3. The motion will be proposed and seconded by Professor Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Dr Nabil Mustapha, Baha’i and Interfaith. It will be opposed by Dr Stephen Law, Provost, Centre for Enquiry and David Pollock, President of the European Humanist Federation. Each side will decide who will speak first and who second. Mrs Norma Corkish, head of Citizen’s Advice Waverley will chair the debate.

4. The debate will be opened by the Chairman of Farnham Humanists who will welcome and thank everyone, introduce the Debate Chairman and say that the debate will be followed by a collection for our charities (charities to be confirmed nearer the debate). The Debate Chairman will introduce the speakers.

5. Each of the four main speakers will be given up to 10 minutes to present their case. Following the four speakers, the debate will be opened to the floor where members of the public can air their views or ask questions for up to 3 minutes each. A small number of nominated people may be specifically invited to speak from the floor. The Chairman will seek to keep contributions for and against the motion equal as far as possible. Following the contributions from the floor the proposer/seconder, then the opposer/seconder will have 10 minutes to respond to questions and to sum up. Each side will decide if one or both of their speakers will respond/sum up.

6. The motion will then be put to a vote (including abstentions). A timekeeper and tellers will be appointed.