More contempt for Richard Dawkins. In today’s English Press there are two articles arguing that Dawkin’s refusal to debate William Lane Craig is “cynical and anti-intellectual “– thus, Daniel Came — and intellectual cowardice – thus Paul Vallely. It seems, at any rate, that Craig’s PR team has at least convinced a few people that Richard Dawkins should relent, join William Lane Craig at the rostrum at the Sheldonian, and give a good account of himself. Daniel Came suggests that he can’t, and that that is why he is refusing. Indeed, Daniel Came, lecturer in philosophy at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, and an associate lecturer in philosophy at the University of Kent, goes so far as to say this:
Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed.
This response comes as a bit of surprise to me, for having listened through two whole debates by Craig (the ones with Lawrence Krauss and Lewis Wolpert), and spottily to several others, Craig simply does not demonstrate the inadequacy of the arguments of others — and his voice is unctuous and a pain to listen to. He has a pretty standard spiel, and he is in the habit of deliberately refusing to address the arguments of those with whom he enters into debate.
Craig’s arguments are, basically, twofold. First, he claims, but cannot show, that there is no basis for morality without God. This he states forcefully in several ways, but it never results in an argument, and it is hard to see how it could do so. While it is true that Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism, offers an interpretation of Plato’s Euthyphro argument which tends to show that the religious believer can evade the difficulties raised by Plato for divine command morality (see pp. 76-79), Craig never uses this argument, and the Euthyphro argument is decisive against the form of the divine command theory that he espouses. And, in any event, there is simply no reason, given the world as it is, why we should take it to be possible that we can have any insight into those things that a god, if one exists, takes to be good, and therefore commanded. The problem of revelation is outstanding, and remains, and must remain, unsolved, until someone can provide a decisive means of distinguishing between those things that have been revealed and those that are not. So far, the dizzying variety of responses to this question is proof that there is no compelling reason to take any purported revelation to be unproblematically revealed by one of the purported gods of which there are so many.
Craig’s second argument is the argument from the logical peculiarity of infinity, and he repeats this argument no matter what his opponent in debate has to say. Now, the fact that the universe is likely stranger than we can imagine it to be — for example, as Lawrence Krauss pointed out in his debate with Craig, it may be said with some reason that the greatest amount of energy in the universe is present in dark energy, black holes, and nothingness — raises serious questions about the simplistic use of the old Greek philosophical conundrums raised by the idea of an actual infinity, which, as Krauss pointed out, physicists use all the time, without difficulty. This seemed to have stumped Craig for a while, but when he went home and thought about it, he apparently thought of another line of argument, and published a response on his blog in which he purports to have subverted Krauss’s argument after the fact. It is very doubtful that he has done so, and, indeed, scientists are quick to point out that Craig’s repertoire of arguments involving science are seriously deficient, though apparently compelling enough to a non-scientific audience that he has been quite successful in leaving the impression that he has left his opponents grasping at straws.
However, it is a bit facile of Daniel Came to suggest that it is Dawkins and Grayling who are the intellectual bad guys here. Here is what he says this morning:
Dawkins maintains that we’re not justified in inferring a designer as the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe because then a new problem surfaces: who designed the designer? This argument is as old as the hills and as any reasonably competent first-year undergraduate could point out is patently invalid. For an explanation to be successful we do not need an explanation of the explanation.
But this is, in itself, an answer to the problem, and uses, as a means, precisely the argument that Dawkins uses, and that Came is deprecating. “For an explanation to be successful we do not need an explanation of the explanation.” Quite true. Once we have explained the universe by the Big Bang, say, we do not need an additional explanation over and above the scientific one. But this is precisely what Dawkins is saying. We have a perfectly good “mechanistic” explanation for design in the universe. The theory of evolution works just as well at the cosmic level as it does at the level of life. The sorting process that takes place by natural selection in the life world, or by an analogical process in the cosmos, is quite enough, without purporting to further explain the whole thing by suggesting that there must a god or a cosmic designer. Since a first-year undergraduate can point this out, and since Came himself accepts the argument as valid, even though he thinks what the first-year undergraduate can do is show the invalidity of the argument, Came has arrived here at something of a cleft stick. It either is sufficient to give an explanation, and therefore to need no further one, or it’s not. In his rush to condemn Dawkins, it seems that he has ended up in a contradiction.
Let’s take one other feature of Came’s argument against Dawkins. Dawkins said, in his recent Guardian article explaining why he chooses not to debate with Craig, that Craig has argued in favour of genocide, and he would not want to share a podium with such a man. Came’s response is as follows:
I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation.
But this is precisely the kind of tactic that Craig would use. If, as Came puts it, “an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset.” This is the same argument used by C.S. Lewis in his book A Grief Observed, and it is repeated ad nauseam in the philosophical literature. Indeed, Lewis goes on to offer the opinion that it would be hard, under these circumstances, to distinguish between a Cosmic Sadist and a compassionate god, except that a Cosmic Sadist is more likely to be compassionate! If this is so — and it must be, if Craig’s argument is right — then we have no more reason to believe in a good god than in an evil one — which, of course, is precisely the argument that Stephen Law uses to some effect. But none of this diminishes the horrific nature of the argument that Christians must make in order to turn all the manifold evil in the world into some kind of divine good. Whether as a matter of logic this is defensible, as a matter of humanity it is not. Hitler could as easily argue — in fact he did argue — that Nazi atrocity was necessary in order to establish the new moral order of National Socialism, and Stalin used the same argument for the necessity of starving the kulaks in order to establish a Proletarian utopia. If the Christian is reduced to making precisely these arguments, but with even less evidence, then Christian morality is shown to be as bankrupt as the morality of a Hitler or a Stalin — not, one might think, a ringing endorsement of Christian morality.
The point that I am making here is simply that Came is his own worst enemy. He argues that Dawkins should debate with this preening peacock of a man, whose whole purpose is evangelical and missional, and then he provides perfectly good arguments, used by most atheists nowadays, why the god that Craig defends is very unlikely to exist. What makes Craig seem to be a formidable opponent is simply that he sets out his arguments in a routine manner, and essentially lets his opponents break over them, for Craig never deigns to respond to the arguments that are made in opposition. In his argument with Krauss, for instance, Craig has no answer to Krauss’s point that Craig’s use of Bayesian probability is really an empty piece of rhetoric — designed, one might add, to convince his believing audience. Indeed, the sense that both Came and Vallely exude that Craig is unstoppable is due, in very large measure, to his well honed arguments, which are used, not to debate, but as a kind of obstinacy against his opponents. The arguments he uses are standard apologetic fare, and remain the same from one debate to the next. Craig does not vary his arguments in response to criticism — at least I have never heard him take his opponents’ arguments into account, and to provide answers to them. He simply assumes, bluntly, that his arguments continue to be valid whatever his opponents might say.
Vallely says that Craig “is unafraid to range across ontological theology and moral philosophy and talks with ease about new developments in cosmology, mathematics and physics.” But the question is whether he really is as much at ease with developments in cosmology and physics as he seems to be. Scientists who have debated with him, while they may be impressed with the way that Craig appears to marshal his arguments, suggest that his grasp of modern cosmology is very limited. Lawrence Krauss, for instance, remarked, during his debate with Craig, that Craig is not a scientist, “as he has demonstrated several times over the last few minutes.”
[And -- added later on Sunday -- I have already put up this clip of Craig and Lewis Wolpert before, where Craig demonstrates, decisively, his ignorance of evolutionary science. It cannot be assumed that, while he appears to speak with ease about scientific topics, Craig actually has any idea what he is talking about:
Craig’s forté is presenting philosophical arguments and insisting that his debating partners be able to present arguments rebutting them; but it is quite clear from the way that he presents these arguments, that he will not accept any response as even understanding these arguments unless his opponent accepts their force. But he cannot both insist upon this, in the way that he does, and yet respond to scientific arguments as though they have no weight. His claim that it is enormously improbable that sponges and bats had a common ancestor is known to be false, yet he will not even consider the claim that this simply shows his ignorance of the science involved. Craig simply cannot be permitted to have it both ways here. On this ground alone Richard Dawkins has refused to debate with Craig. The objection that Craig is also an apologist for genocide is an additional reason not to do so, not the only one.]
Craig is over-impressed with what he takes to be the validity of the Kalam cosmological argument — that everything that comes to be has a cause — so he does not bother really trying to understand contemporary cosmology, which is in a state of perpetual ferment. When he comes to Krauss’s argument that things come to be out of nothingness all the time, Craig’s only rebuttal is to say that nothingness must be something after all. But this is not an answer, since the nothingness to which Krauss refers must be understood in its own context, and this Craig simply cannot do. It may, in fact, turn out that the physicist’s “nothingness” is the actual infinite which Craig holds to be impossible, since it may, in fact, be logically incoherent (as quantum mechanics seems to be). At this point, I assume that we just don’t know (though I acknowledge my ignorance on this matter). And so, oddly, at this point the Bible may be more correct, in fact, than Craig’s philosophical arguments, since the Bible, in the first chapter of Genesis, takes it for granted that what existed in the beginning was simply a chaos — that is, not that there was nothing, but that there was a pre-existing chaos out of which the world was created. However, if it can be shown that there are ways in which nothingness can give rise to being without requiring an external cause, then Craig simply does not have anywhere to place his logical fulcrum which purports to show that a divine designer is necessary in order to underwrite the existence of the world as we know it.
As for Craig’s argument for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, the less said about this embarrassing piece of special pleading, perhaps, the better. In his book The End of Biblical Studies, Hector Avalos shows how Craig misrepresents the historian C. Behan McCullagh’s criteria for justifying historical descriptions – which is the title of McCullagn’s book (see pp. 186-194 of The End of Biblical Studies). So egregious is Craig’s misuse of McCullagh’s criteria, as Avalos points outs, that not only is Jesus’ resurrection shown, by these criteria, to be historical, but so are the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje in the old Yugoslavia, as well as the many resurrections recorded by other religions. In fact, Avalos claims, with some justice, in my view, that
Craig’s application of such criteria is arbitrary and could lead to declaring as “historical” the supernatural claims of many other non-Christian religions. 
This is unquestionable, I believe, but this criticism has not led Craig to modify his argument in any respect, and he repeats the same argument again and again in debate without taking the slightest interest in its refutation (a refutation, it is worthwhile noting, of which he must be aware), because, for all his smarts, Craig is a Christian apologist of the worst sort, the kind who never takes his opponents arguments into consideration at all, and simply goes through the same spiel time after time. When Craig has actually tried to digest what his opponents have to say, then perhaps he is someone whose views need to be taken into account by the serious opponent of Christianity, but until then, Craig’s use of debating opponents as ”straight men” to make his own arguments appear more powerful than they are, almost entirely for evangelistic purposes, is justification enough not to engage him in debate. He attracts crowds because he is the contemporary hero of evangelical intellectual sophistication. Craig gives us no reason to think that he is really as sophisticated an intellectual as he pretends to be. That he has convinced Came and Vallely that he is one only shows how successful Sophists can be when they hit upon a formula which makes the weaker argument appear the stronger.