Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

After action reports from William Lane Craig vs Lawrence Krauss debate in Sydney

The first one is from blogger Stephen of ChristianFaith.com. (H/T Apologetics 315)

Excerpt:

William Lane Craig (WLC) attempted to deal with the main topic along classic logic paradigms (too much in my view), but Krauss (at times) was simply spoiling the dialogue with constant interruptions and diversions. In other words, he chose not to fight fair and intentionally landed some low blows.

[...]After that he gave us a useful dumbed-down materialist version of how the universe came into existence from ‘nothing’ and attacked Craig’s model for a transcendent beginning to the universe(s). An odd analogy (a reference to homosexuality) was used to counter Craig’s Kalaam cosmological argument but his 15 minutes were, overall, engaging, well-paced and entertaining. His personal style of humour was critical to his presentation as he freely admits that scientists within his own discipline of physics are often regarded as ‘obnoxious’ (his word, not mine).

In short, Krauss was confident, engaging, cocky and unconvincing re: the actual topic – ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

Craig’s 15 minutes were a direct contrast to Krauss’s.

Craig relied on his written notes far more heavily than the free flowing style of Krauss and he presented his views on the topic with intense logic and refined public speaking skills. His constant reference to the Leibnizian cosmological argument firmly imprinted in my mind that Craig was firmly committed to the central topic and he did his expert best to convince us of it. For example, Krauss’s various concepts of ‘nothing’ has been the subject to much derision by some (not just theists) and Craig deliberately exposed Krauss’s inconsistencies by quoting Krauss himself! For example:

  • “There are a variety of forms of nothing, they all have various definitions.”
  • “The laws of quantum mechanics tells us that nothing is unstable.”
  • “Nothing weighs something.”
  • “Nothing is almost everything.”

And this is where Krauss’s biggest problem lay. It’s his definition, ultimately, of ‘nothing’. Craig exposed the issue in just one slide and even Krauss looked uncomfortable in his chair as the quotes above were read out.

Which brings me to the next point, which for some of you will seem quite trivial.

I was seated close to the stage and had a great view of Krauss the man. I watched him closely as Craig presented his views and was very disappointed to see some of his reactions that I would describe as just plain rude. Without a buzzer this time, Krauss was constantly either rolling his eyes in disapproval at some of Craig’s statements or even raising his hands at times to publicly announce his disapproval.

Why do this? One can only interpret this as arrogance and rudeness. I could not imagine Craig himself or Ravi Zacharias or John Lennox adopting these negative (look-at-me-folks) non-verbal gestures.

Stephen then links to a reaction to the debate from physicist Luke Barnes, whose preview of the debate I blogged about before.

The review is in a comment by Dr. Barnes:

It went alright, I think. A little too much interruption, and some red-herrings from the moderator, but reasonably civil and on-topic.

The most interesting bit came when Craig was trying to justify premise 2 of his argument:

“If the universe has an explanation, then that explanation is God.”

Krauss disputed this premise in the opening speech, saying that it just assumed God did it. Craig’s argument for premise 2 went something like this:

A. Definition: the universe is the totality of physical reality. (Call it the multiverse if you like, if there is one.)
B. Then, if the universe has an explanation, it cannot be in terms of physical things.
C. Since the universe includes all matter, energy, space and time, the explanation must then be a transcendent, immaterial, spaceless and timeless entity.
D. The only thing that Craig can think of that can be a cause whilst being immaterial is an unembodied mind.
E. Thus, if the universe has an explanation, then that explanation is a transcendent, immaterial, spaceless and timeless mind. That being deserves the title “God”.

Krauss responded by questioning the definition. He tried to get Craig to say that physical reality was just everything in spacetime, since then he could say that science can talk about spacetime foams and other postulated physical things more fundamental than spacetime. I think, given more time to clarify, Craig would have said that spacetime foam is a physical thing (since it can appear in physical theories) so its part of the universe.

Krauss also responded that D merely states the limit of the human mind, and says nothing about reality. Craig could have responded by asking for an alternative, or rephrased the argument as an inference to the best explanation. I think that “the only hypotheses I can think of” type assumptions are lurking behind almost all inferences. (Maybe I can show that from Bayes theorem. I’ll have a think about that.).

This was the most relevant bit of the debate, but then things got sidetracked (I think because of the moderator).

I replied to Dr. Barnes on his blog like this:

I think that Dr. Craig is leaving it to his opponent to present and defend alternatives to his views. It’s not his job in the time he has to present alternatives and refute. That’s the job of his opponent. Dr. Peter Millican did a good job of doing that in his debate with Dr. Craig, and Dr. Craig had to defend and refute the alternatives that Dr. Millican presented.

Thanks for your comments, Dr. Barnes. I linked to your preview and to this review of the debate as well.

Not sure if I want to spend the time summarizing these debates. It’s a joy to summarize a debate with Austin Dacey, or Walter Sinnott-Armstrong or Peter Millican, but Dr. Krauss is not in that class of debaters. But I think these debates are useful to show the fundamental unattractiveness of atheism as a worldview. I don’t want to be anti-reality like Dr. Krauss – always taking refuge in speculations and hiding from scientific evidence in order to keep up the delusion for as long as possible.

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4 Responses

  1. Chris Huston says:

    “Craig relied on his written notes far more heavily than the free flowing style of [his opponent] and he presented his views on the topic with intense logic and refined public speaking skills. … Craig was firmly committed to the central topic and he did his expert best to convince us of it.”

    From the few debates I’ve seen of Craig, this is his default m.o. He is better than anyone about sticking to the specific question of the evening, building a logical argument around that, and preventing questioners from going off topic, even with relevant or interesting points.

    He also makes very limited use of humor, which I like to see from either side. Often, jokes are used to disguise fallacious arguments.

    He’s been doing this for decades, so it’s easy to see how he got his “refined public speaking skills.” I wish more of his opponents would adopt a similar style instead of so often falling into the kind of approach displayed in this particular instance.

    No doubt Craig has his faults, but I appreciate his brand of professionalism, and would do so from any opponent who displayed the same.

    • bossmanham says:

      Craig presents no formally fallacious arguments. They’re all logically valid. Whether they’re true or not is another story, but you can’t accuse him if fallacious arguments.

      • I don’t think Chris said anything bad about Dr. Craig.

      • Chris Huston says:

        Definitely, bossman. That’s all I meant to give him credit for, without passing judgment on the truth or falseness of Craig’s arguments. One needn’t listen to very many debates (whether theism v. atheism or anything else) to realize many people too easily resort to fallacious arguments. (Disguising them with humor is an extremely popular tactic. This is true even for arguers for theism.) The fact that he can maintain logically valid arguments is quite a feat — and a laudable one — and it’s really all I’m asking of both his opponents AND his comrades. To me, that’s a worthwhile debate — one where both sides make valid arguments solely about the question at hand.

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