• Stephen Law vs William Lane Craig Part 3

    So, on to the rebuttals. Craig pointed out in several of his rebuttals that Law has not, and did not seem to want to, critique the cosmological argument. Craig does have some beef here as Law seemed to want to debate Craig’s version of God rather than the more fundamental argument over A God’s existence. Thus in true debate point-scoring, Law would take a hit here. However, as Law plainly stated, and I think this was a wise move, this would have broadened the scope too far and wasn’t important for discussing the moral character of Craig’s version of God (thus allowing Law to wedge in his evil God thesis).

    What was one of my favourite moments, and it met with a good round of applause from the secularists in the audience (a clear minority), was when Law, whilst talking about his non-answering of Craig’s first (cosmological) argument, declared himself not to be an expert, and to say something like, “I don’t know, I mean I don’t know the answer to the question why the universe exist.”

    Law’s answer to the 3 Resurrection facts was fairly cursive. Again, I think this was a ploy so that Craig didn’t have much to go on and had to spend his time dealing with the POE arguments and the evil god thesis. Law referred to a 1967 account of a UFO sighting which was sighted by many respectable, trained witnesses, and was corroborated by hard data of a radar blip reported by the air traffic control. Multiple attestation, solid eyewitnesses, hard evidence all pointed towards the witnessing of a UFO the size of a football pitch. This would, using Craig’s methodology, have pointed to the notion that this sighting was indeed reliable and factual. Of course, it was later found to be the planet Venus. This shows that every year there are countless reports of crazy things – ghosts, UFOs, miracles. Most of the time, these are easily explicable with mundane explanations. However, there are many incidents that are not easy to explain. Does this mean that the claims of them are true? Law points out that “so let’s suppose the biblical documents written a decade or so after the events they report, written exclusively by the devotees of a new religious movement, not even by first hand witnesses, detailing events for which there is pretty much no independent confirmation constitutes really, really good evidence that there was an empty tomb and the disciples did report seeing the risen Christ. Is that, in turn, good evidence that Jesus resurrected?”

    We have good reason to expect some baffling reports to pop up anyway whether or not these things exist. The fact that these reports exist provides us with little or no evidence that these things actually happened.

    So what the whole debate comes down to, and this is what was established in the chat at the end of the debate, is Craig’s second argument: the moral argument. This is because Law dismissed the first argument as having nothing to do with talking about the moral character of Craig’s God (as discussed, this meant that Law redefined the parameters of the debate). He also dismissed the 3 fact argument for the Resurrection of Jesus. This, again, defined the parameters of the debate. This was a wise move, as mentioned, as we were not launched into the technicalities of Jesus’ Resurrection accounts. Law probably would have lost this if it had happened because it is not his sphere of expertise. That said, it is a wholly problematic argument since Craig quotes these data as being facts, though they clearly aren’t. Craig claims that most New Testament scholars proclaim these points as fact. However, almost the entire collection of Islamic scholars decree the Qu’ran, Hadith and beliefs of Muhammad to be historically veracious. It does not mean they are factually correct. Taking a cross-section of opinions from people with a vested interest in their historical reliability is a dangerous game. I have decried Craig’s methodology on this elsewhere (http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/04/if-you-were-to-debate-william-lane.html, for example).

    Law, in his whistle-stop statement commenting on the reliability of the Resurrection accounts was, in reality, a good but generous appraisal. I, personally, would have been a little more critical of the reliability. However, the sensible move of Law here was to save this to the last rebuttal, and give it a really speedy and concise treatment, so that Craig was unable to dwell unnecessarily on the detail and weigh down the scope of the debate.

    So they ended up thrashing out issues over the Moral Argument. Law, again in the informal chat, pointed out the deficiencies of Craig merely asserting the first and second premises of the argument. Craig called Law out on his secular deontology. Why is it that Law can hold to secular objective morality? Law’s response, on the one hand, was weak. He admitted it as intuition, but conceded he would be happy to change his mind to subjective morality upon good argumentation, and implied as much in his earlier rebuttal when dealing with premise one. On the other hand, though, he illustrated the fact that all Craig does in asserting that God grounds morality, or that there are greater goods to compensate for pain and suffering, is appeal to his own intuitive assertions.

    In sum, I would call this debate a draw, though Law did move the parameters of the debate which might be seen as a bit cheeky. I though Law adequately showed that Craig’s God was no more probable than an evil God (and on the EPOE, less so, in my opinion).

    The weakest arguments:

    1)      Craig’s appeal to the notion that animals don’t have a subjective appraisal of pain. This is so reminiscent of Cartesian thought from centuries back which caused a whole rash of vivisection as to make me cringe. It was no justification whatsoever for natural evil, and Law should have blasted him for it.

    2)      Craig’s use of bare assertion to establish premises and his really disingenuous appraisal of alternative cosmological theories.

    3)      Again calling the Resurrection data ‘facts’. Sheesh, he should have learnt by now.

    4)      Law must surely have good philosophical reasons for a secular deontology and I would like to have heard them rather than a retreat to intuition.

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

    Category: DebatesPhilosophical Argument Against God


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce