Proud proponent of logical fallacies, William Lane Craig, wrote an a pompous and condescending article to atheists called “A Christmas gift for atheists — five reasons why God exist” a few days ago. This article has been brilliantly deconstructed by other members of the atheist community who are both smarter and more eloquent than I, but I couldn’t let this one go by without responding on my own.
If you don’t know who William Lane Craig is, he’s a presuppositional apologist who’s famous for representing biblical views in formal debates with prominent non-theist philosophers. Despite his success in the debate circuit, his arguments are often filled with logical fallacies and false assumptions.
One thing I will give him credit for, he makes doesn’t shy on taking shots right off the bat. His article opens with a provocative shot across the atheist bow:
“For atheists, Christmas is a religious sham. For if God does not exist, then obviously Jesus’ birth cannot represent the incarnation of God in human history, which Christians celebrate at this time of year.”
This is a surprisingly fair representation of atheistic beliefs so long as we overlook the dismissive language he uses. If you don’t believe in god, chances are you’re not going to accept Jesus being the son of god as historical fact. That, of course, also applies to anyone who believes any religion other than Christianity, but we’ll let that one go.
Rational and accurate thought in this article seems to end there, however. The very next paragraph says,
“However, most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief. Rather they’ve learned to simply repeat the slogan, ‘There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!'”
Stop right there. If, in your “experience”, atheists have no good reason for disbelief, then you’ve clearly not had very much experience with atheists. Most atheists I’ve met have very good reasons for the way they believe. They’ve put a lot of thought and study into religion (often more than their theistic counterparts). In many cases, it was critical study of religious texts that made atheists turn their backs on the creed of their parents. Also, by what measure does he judge “good evidence” for nonbelief? Is he the arbiter who decides which atheists have the right reasoning for their belief systems and which ones don’t? Because if that’s the case, he’s clearly going to say no atheist has good reason to deny god.
That’s what presuppositionalist means; Craig presupposes his conclusions. He begins with the conclusion that god exists, and builds all his arguments from there. From that stance, any belief that doesn’t include god (and in Craig’s case, more specifically the Abrahamic God) would be insufficient. Lucky for us, he doesn’t get to decide whether anyone’s reasons for being an atheist meet his standards.
As for his claim that “There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!” is just an atheist slogan, that’s so dumb it doesn’t deserve the dignity of a response.
Let’s get into Craig’s 5 reasons that prove god exists. Surely we won’t find any bad logic or false assumptions in this, right? Anybody? Anybody? Beuller?
Reason number 1!
“God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe. Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.”
Craig demonstrates here that he doesn’t understand the basics of science. While it’s true that some scientists suggest that the universe had a specific beginning, there isn’t an overwhelming consensus of the fact. It’s certainly not accurate to assert that the universe therefore “popped into existence”. Scientific models (to the best of my understanding – which I will freely acknowledge is incomplete in this area) can describe the physical history of the universe up to a certain point, which is an infinitesimally small moment after the big bang. Science, however, has nothing to say about what was or was not in existence before that moment. To use an imperfect metaphor, it’s like looking at a grassy hill. When you’re standing at the bottom of the hill, you can’t see past the top of it. The other side could have a cliff, a beach, a gravel path, or any number of other features, but you can’t say what’s there because it’s not possible to see it from where you’re standing.
Craig, however, alleges that something had to be there to cause the big bang, and the only thing that could’ve caused it is an intelligent being. This is one of the basic logical fallacies that Craig leans on. It’s called the god of the gaps, and its a form of the appeal to ignorance fallacy. Briefly, what that means is that any time science doesn’t have an answer to a question, the religious want to shove god in that space as the definitive answer. Anytime a scientist says, “I don’t know (yet),” the apologists then inserts “Therefore Jesus.” It’s a complete non sequitur. There is no more reason to think that god existed before the big bang than there is to believe in a multiverse, a computer program, or a giant badger. There’s no evidence to support any theory, so all are equally unlikely.
To put this another way (because I haven’t rambled enough on this point), let me run some basic logic that I learned in 8th grade. One of the first logic rules you learn is the if-then sentence. If X, then Y. Now, in this sentence, if X and Y are both true or both false, that means the statement is true. For example:
If the rocket has enough thrust, then it will reach escape velocity.
Now, if the X in that statement – the rocket has enough thrust – and the Y – it will reach escape velocity – are both true, the statement is true. If they’re both false, the statement is still true (e.g. If the rocket doesn’t have enough thrust, then it will not reach escape velocity).
However, if the truth values of X and Y are different, the statement is false. “If the rocket has enough thrust, than it will not reach escape velocity,” is not a true statement. To sum up:
If True, than True = True
If False, than False = True
If True, than False = False
If False, than True = False
When we apply this simple logic to Craig’s assertion, it falls apart for him. What he’s basically saying is “If the universe had a beginning, than god could be the only reason.” Translating that to it’s basic segments, X = The universe had a beginning (T), and Y = god could be the only reason (F)… the statement isn’t logically sound.
Well, that was fun. Let’s look at number 2!
“God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature’s laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.”
Ah, Craig is hitting up all the favorites. This is called the teleological argument, or the argument from design. Basically, what he’s trying to say is that since the necessary components and physical laws of the universe had to be so specific for life to exist in the first place, the universe must’ve been designed by some sort of intelligence (with the unspoken conclusion “Therefore Jesus.”).
This argument also has been debunked numerous times, because it doesn’t accurately describe the way the universe exists. For example, if the universe is so perfectly suited to life, why is it constantly trying to kill us? There is such a vast majority of the universe that is completely uninhabitable for life that to assume it was designed just for life to exist is patently absurd. As J.T. Eberhard wrote in his dissection of this article, it would be like claiming that a house was built just for the benefit of a single atom used in the construction.
A key point is that there is a false assumption to say that universal law allows for life to exists solely because it was designed so. It’s equally possible (and I think more likely) that the reverse is true. There is life in the universe because universal law allows it. If we imagine an infinite amount of parallel universes each with slightly different laws of physics, then life began in this one because the laws allowed for it. You can use the same example on a smaller scale for Earth. Presuppositionalists claim that Earth was designed to support life because there are so many specific attributes about the planet that are necessary for life to survive (distance from the Sun, liquid water, magnetic field to limit stellar radiation, etc). But it’s incredibly more likely that out of the billions and billions of planets, some had the attributes needed to support life, and Earth happened to fit the needs. In short, Earth wasn’t designed so it could support life; life grew on Earth because Earth could support it. Or as David McAfee put it, it’d be like a puddle gaining sentience, and deciding the hole it was in was intelligently designed because the puddle fit into it so well.
If we were to make a slight (and I think justified) leap of logic on Craig’s argument, I think it would be safe to assume that he is referring to specifically human life. If that’s true, his argument falls apart even more quickly. Earth – the single place in the universe that we know for sure supports life – is hugely inhospitable to human life. Over 80% of the planet is completely uninhabitable, and even the places we consider habitable are often only that way because of technological intervention. When there’s a power outage in New York City during a heat wave, it kills people. That’s hardly an example of a place suited to human habitation.
Craig is also trying to subtly frame his argument to imply a creator by using terms like “fine-tuning,” suggesting a tuner. He also wants to make the false assumption that there are only two possible reasons for the universe’s existence; god or chance. Just as he earlier suggested the only two options to explain the big bang were God or the universe spontaneously popping into existence. However, we’ve already established that there’s more than 2 possibilities out there.
On to #3!
“God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties. Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.”
I believe I’ve covered before the tired old argument that claims “you can’t be moral without god.” I’m not kidding when I say it’s tired, since atheists have debunked that claim time and time and time again. But let’s run through it quickly one more time.
Craig says that social conditioning is only capable of producing a subjective feeling of morality, but without an objective basis for that feeling, it’s completely arbitrary. He then erroneously asserts that god has to be the objective standard of morals that we must all compare our own morality to. He argues that without an objective moral standard, which he defines as god, there can be no foundation on which we can interpret our own morality. This is absurd. Morals existed before religion, and likely have an evolutionary basis.
This is why we so easily can dismiss so much of the terrible morality in scripture. While there’s plenty of religious conservatives who point to Leviticus 20:13 to justify their own homophobia, almost nobody is seriously suggesting we put gays to death. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that a rape victim should be forced to marry her attacker, even though that is what is directed in the Bible (as a punishment to the rapist, no less). If someone suggested that we execute people for doing basic chores on Saturday, they’d be seen as a psychopath, but that’s exactly what scripture commands.
There’s three statements Craig asserts is true: 1) the Abrahamic god of the Bible is the one true god. 2) That god is the objective moral standard we all compare ourselves to. 3) The Bible is the inerrant word of god. If we accept these three premises, then that means all the rules in the Bible are moral. It suggests it would be moral to force a rape victim to marry her rapist, or to kill a child for disrespecting their parents. Since we know these punishments proscribed by the bible are both immoral and unjust, either we have a higher morality than god, or god is not the standard by which morals are measured.
Then there’s #4.
“God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact. Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.”
I don’t think there’s a single sentence in this entry that’s true. He begins by stating that there is a historical consensus that there was a guy approximately two thousand years ago named Jesus who believed that he was the son of god. Considering there’s not even consensus that there was a historical person that the biblical character of Jesus was based on, it’s tough to conclude that that person claimed to be the son of god. There is no historical evidence of miracle-working or exorcisms outside the Bible, and we can safely assume that the Bible isn’t exactly an unbiased source. The only source that has any evidence of all of Craig’s assertions is the Bible, and accepting biblical evidence creates a problem of circular logic. If we can’t find any evidence outside the Bible for Craig’s claims, there’s no reason to agree with his conclusion that the only explanation for these events is god.
To put it briefly, this is nothing but a big pack of lies, and we can easily dismiss this entire section.
“God can be personally known and experienced. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.”
I’m surprised that Craig would even try to pull off this blatantly manipulative emotional argument. I mean, he’s wrong with almost everything he said, but he’s usually smarter than to try such a cheap trick as this.
What Craig is trying to say here as that there’s so many people who’ve had a personal experience with Jesus that he must exists. That’s not evidence, that’s anecdote. I’ve met many people who claim personal experience with Jesus. They tell me how that’s how they know he’s real and I need to accept him. The reason we can dismiss this without a second thought is because there’s just as many people who’ve had a personal experience with Allah, or with Ganesh, or with Shinto spirits. If accept one person’s personal account of a religious experience, then I must accept anyone else’s as well. And since those accounts are inherently contradictory, I can’t accept that both are correct. The only sensible option is to dismiss those accounts as being not evidence worth consideration. And as Christopher Hitchens famously said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
Craig finishes out with one final backhanded insult covered as a compliment, saying that all atheists are passionate people who just want to believe something. As with the rest of Craig’s points, this one should be dismissed without thought. We’re quite happy believing as we do, thanks.
So there we are. Craig tried to give us 5 reasons to be glad that god is real, and not a single one of those reasons holds up to the most basic scrutiny. Understand, I am not a trained theologian or philosopher. I have never taken a class in debate, and all my knowledge on the subject comes from my own experience and study. So if someone as inexperienced as myself can poke so many holes in Craig’s logic so easily, it must be devastatingly brutal when somebody with actual background in philosophy responds to him.