Archive | debate RSS for this section

Rick Warden’s Argument For Theism

Blogger Rick Warden has decried the fact that the “top 20 atheist bloggers” have declined to offer a response to his argument for theism[1]. I think that most arguments, even if they are poor, deserve a response; so I will attempt to answer his argument[2] here (the picture is of course just a joke). The first section reads as follows:

I. Formal logic presupposes certain truths theoretically exist as a basis for sound reasoning.
A. A categorical syllogism, for example, requires the existence of implied universal truth and validity.
1. At least two laws of logic apply in all possible worlds.
a. Law of non-contradiction: It is not possible that something be both true and not true.
b. Law of identity: A = A. Something is what it is and has at least one identifying characteristic.

His (I) is correct – any logical system will take for granted that certain formulas are true; these are called the axioms of the system. But his support for this is mistaken. A syllogism does not need the existence of universal truth, because the syllogism is only valid within one system. If you take a syllogism formulated in classical logic which uses the law of non-contradiction as a premise, and translate it into a paraconsistent logic, that syllogism will no longer be valid.

He’s also mistaken about his definitions of the “laws” of logic”. They are not written in English, but in the language of symbolic logic. The LNC reads, “~(A & ~A)”, and the law of identity reads, “A → A”. A proper translation of these into English would read, “not (A and not-A)”, and “A materially implies A”.

Furthermore, the only reason we don’t allow a contradiction in “classical” logic is because that, given the rules of that system, a contradiction makes every formula trivially true – thus rendering the system useless. But if we create a new system by removing the rule of inference called “disjunctive syllogism”, then this doesn’t happen, and we can have contradictions without rendering it useless.

But anyway, I’ll grant (I), with the caveat that which “truths” (axioms) are presupposed is going to depend on what system you’re working in.

II. The foundation of cohesive logic appears to have been undermined by quantum physics.
A. A quantum particle has ambiguous identifying characteristics until it is measured and collapsed.
B. Quantum non-locality and entanglement imply boundaries that were assumed to be finite and localized are not.
C. QM phenomena and influences are not neatly compartmentalized apart from the Visible day-to-day World
D. If the physical world is truly interconnected by energy, there is only one implied physical identity.
E. It is not the laws of physics that determine how information behaves in our Universe, but the other way around.

Two things to say here. First, I disagree. Maybe it’s true that “classical” logic can’t describe the way things behave on the quantum level, but so what? Such situations are one of the reasons why we have other logics to work with.

Second, Rick mentions a lot of stuff in his writing regarding this point that doesn’t even appear to be relevant. In addition to talking about QM, he criticizes materialism and Ayn Rand’s objectivism. But some atheists are not materialists, and most are not objectivists. I am neither.

III. NDE Cases Support a Cohesive, Logical Understanding within a Theistic Framework.
A. NDE patients describe situations they could not have perceived with their physical senses.
B. Reynolds described the appearance of a unique instrument used and recalled a specific conversation.
C. A Dutch NDE patient described aspects of an operation that occurred observed during clinical death with a cardiac arrest.
D. People born blind have made accurate, detailed descriptions of images they could not have seen with their natural eyes.
E. A specific identity and locality is maintained while experiencing clinical death, consistent with the law of identity.
F. NDE accounts imply that human volition (free will) exists and operates on a spiritual level.
G. NDE accounts imply a God with a loving nature exists. This supports the theist view over other religions.

NDEs certainly do point to some strange things which are difficult to explain, but they don’t necessarily point away from atheism. It may be that these experiences are completely naturalistic, and merely point to the fact that perhaps our senses do work when we currently think they don’t, and these experiences are merely the illusion of having a shift in location. Or it may be that substance dualism is indeed true.

But in any case, the best this can do is shift the probabilities away from materialism. These probabilities would be then redistributed equally, raising the probability of all other possibilities – theism, non-materialistic atheism, solipsism, etc. So this isn’t a gain in likelihood for theism compared to atheism; just compared to materialism.

Also, I don’t see why (F) is true. How do NDEs say anything about free will at all?

IV. Materialism has failed to provide support for answers to foundational questions while theism has provided such support.
A. Universal and certain truth and validity are implied as a necessary combination in making formal philosophical arguments but the possibility of absolute truth is rejected by most materialists because of the theistic implications.
B. Studies in quantum physics offer metaphysical under-determinism while cohesive logic regarding identity remains beyond reach.
F. Materialism has Failed to provide minimal answers with regard to the origin of the universe, the origin of matter, the origin of life, the origin of information, the origin and makeup of consciousness.
G. Theism does provide a logical and cohesive framework and specific answers to the above questions in keeping with related evidence.

I guess the lettering is off here. Oh well, no matter. Anyway, I feel that I’ve already answered the point about materialism above, so I won’t reiterate it here.

V. Conclusion
A. Proof is affirmed by logic and material evidence and the preponderance of evidence supports a theistic interpretation.
1. The materialist view is logically inconsistent and in conflict with science and evidence implying the supernatural.
2. The Christian view is supported by cohesive logic, science, evidence and scriptural text.
a. Hebrew 11.3: Logic, information and the spiritual dimension form the basis of prime reality.
b. John 1.1, 1.14: God is the logical basis of prime reality.
c. Colossians 1.17: God is both the creator and enabler of the physical world.

Rick makes an odd move here from theism to Christianity. I can’t find where Christianity suddenly jumps in, given that he’s only been talking about theism this whole time. He also once again critiques materialism, which is not identical to atheism.

Anyway, there’s a few things to say about all this. First, it seems like I could grant all his premises, and still consistently be an atheist. None of the premises given clash with atheism – just with materialism, objectivism, etc.

Second, this seems to be not so much an argument, as a series of somewhat related statements. No rules of inference are given, and I struggle to think of any that could produce his conclusions with the premises he has.

Finally, I’d like to distance myself from at least some of the atheists who have refused to respond to Rick’s argument. I’m not familiar with all of them, but P.Z. Myers is just another typical “new atheist”; and John Loftus is quite unreasonable (just ask Victor Reppert!)

But, I’d be more than happy to re-examine this argument if he wants to reformulate it, or provide his inferences. I also invite him to respond to the arguments for atheism I’ve provided elsewhere on this blog.




William Lane Craig vs. Klemens Kappel: Summary and Commentary

Preliminary thoughts:

I’m quite familiar with William Lane Craig’s debates, and I’m hoping that he uses some new material. I have no idea who Klemens Kappel is, but his university profile ( shows that he’s actually a philosopher, unlike most of Craig’s previous debate opponents. I’ve got high hopes for this debate. Audio and video can be found here:

They seem to be having some problems with their sound equipment. The volume level varies, and there was a weird crackle sound. I hope this problem doesn’t come back during the debate.

Apparently Kappel, in addition to having a philosophy degree, is a member of the Danish Council of Ethics. The near-inevitable discussion on the moral argument might be interesting.
20 minute opening statements, 12 minute first rebuttal, 8 minute second rebuttal, 5 minute closing statements, then a Q&A (which I probably will not address due to time) Here we go…

William Lane Craig’s Opening Statement:

Craig is defending two basic contentions. Business as usual so far.

Interesting. Kappel has criticized agnostics as being “too timid” in his published work.
Craig goes on to say that Kappel has talked about three types of evidence that could possibly justify theism (logical proofs, inference to the best explanation, testimonial evidence). He’s certainly done his research on his opponent. I wonder if Kappel has done the same.

Craig’s starting with the cosmological argument; business as usual. (I probably won’t say too much about the specifics of his arguments here, as they’re likely quite well known by anyone people reading this).

Well, this is interesting. He’s using the Liebniz cosmological argument and not the Kalam. I wonder why.

This debate now seems like a pretty big 180 for Craig. He only briefly mentions that there are moral and ontological arguments, then moves on to abductive arguments. Maybe he’s trying to undercut his opponent’s experience in analytic philosophy by moving toward more empirical grounds?
Fine tuning argument. Given the speed at which he’s moved through points so far, I think he’s going to spend a lot more time than usual on this, and then the historical argument. If he does, Kappel might have a hard time responding.

Hmm. He just referred to the fine-tuning argument as “inductive”. But it’s not – it’s abductive. Given that this is an amateur mistake for someone like Craig, I’m going to assume he just misspoke.
Yep. He’s spending even more time on fine tuning than he spent on the cosmological argument. Very different from what he usually does.

Now this is very interesting. He’s proposing an abductive argument from the beginning of the universe. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this kind of argument from Craig before. I think it’s in response to the recent trend of physicists like Hawking and Krauss talking about arguments for theism. He says “some populizers of science mischaracterize quantum vacuum states as ‘nothing'”.
Now he’s moving on to testmonial evidence, and giving the historical argument. But he’s only giving three facts this time, when he usually gives four. The empty tomb, appearances, and the disciples coming to believe in the resurrection – he’s dropped Jesus’ death/burial.

Hmm. He called the historical argument inductive as well. Now I’m baffled; he seems to think abduction and induction are the same thing. But anyway, he’s finishing up his opening statement, so it’s time to move on. Kappel is going to have a hard time responding to Craig’s modified opening statement.

Klemens Kappel’s Opening Statement

Kappel opens with a question to the audience – he asks how many are theists and how many are atheists (most are theists). He starts his case with a definition of God: “a psychological being that exists outside the causal order, maybe even outside time and space, who nonetheless has the willingness and capacity to intervene in earthly affairs, and who might be the originator of the universe, human beings, moral laws”.
This is very promising – he defines an atheist as “someone who believes that God doesn’t exist”; in line with modern philosophy, and apart from “new atheism”. He then gives a stronger view of someone who “knows that God doesn’t exist”, and says that he holds this view.

He then says that he will only attempt to explain his view, and not to convince the audience that he is right. He also says that he will not present a cogent argument (defined as “a set of premises and inferences that rationally ought to be accepted by a firm believer”) to a firm believer. Finally, he says that he will not respond to arguments and counter-arguments ad nauseum.

He points out that in the vast majority of cases, belief in God is based on upbringing, community, and a sense of meaning; as opposed to evidence. He then reiterates what Craig said about three types of possible evidence in support of God. I don’t know where he’s going with this, but it doesn’t seem very conducive to winning the debate; and indeed he doesn’t seem interested in doing so.

Ok – he’s now arguing that we shouldn’t take evidences for God very seriously, because we should consider the God hypothesis as “an alternative hypothesis to what we commonly know via science and common sense”, and thus we are entitled to ignore such hypotheses.

He compares the God hypothesis to the hypothesis that AIDS is caused by something other than the HIV virus. He proposes treating the God hypothesis the same way we treat the Aphrodite hypothesis or the Thor hypothesis- we ignore it. He then gives a version of Russel’s Teapot he calls the “magical mythological star”; and then a parody of the cosmological argument he calls the “magical explanatory star”; and then another parody he calls the “magical ontological star”. His point is that we could have lots of discussion about what’s wrong with these star-arguments, but we still don’t take them seriously.

He proposes that we should use empiricism and science to determine what exists, as opposed to things like tradition or upbringing. He then admits that his proposal is question-begging, but that it’s ok because he’s not making an argument, just explaining his view.

He concludes with a hypothetical dialogue in which “Adam” simply asserts that God exists, and claims that “Bertrand” (lol) cannot simply counter-assert that God does not exist. He says that Bertrand may have to find a way to defend naturalism/empiricism, but that no such way may be available – Bertrand and Adam may be beyond reach from one another.

Finally, he says that faith in God is not belief, but another mental state, like hoping or trust; and that it may be an indispensibel part of one’s worldview. He believes that faith or belief is based on a false assumption, but that this doesn’t mean that one should give it up.

William Lane Craig’s First Rebuttal:

Craig opens with a criticism of Kappel’s definition of God – calling God a psychological being implies that he is mind-dependent, while theists claim he is mind-independent.

He says that Kappel more or less agreed that there are no good reasons to think that God does not exist. He then says that while “Bertrand” might believe God does not exist, he doesn’t know, because knowing implies having warrant for one’s belief.

Craig continues by saying that we know Thor doesn’t exist because we have empirical evidence that he doesn’t; but we don’t have this for God. He also says that the magical stars analogies are logically incoherent. He gives the same response here that he did to Lewis Wolpert’s special computer analogy – a star with all these properties is really not a star at all, but another word for God.
He says that his case is not offered as an alternative to science, but that he uses science as his case; and that science as an alternative to theism is a false dichotomy. He closes with a review of the arguments he presented in his opening statement; and then introduces his moral argument after all. Finally, he holds up a book by J.P. Moreland, and says that he argues that there’s an abductive argument from the existence of consciousness.

Klemens Kappel’s First Rebuttal:

The most pressing question in the debate is who you’re trying to convince, and what the proper rules for how to discuss God are. He says that most people think religion is best kept in the private sphere. He asks why arguing that God exists is so important.

He defends his description of God as a psychological being, saying that all he meant is that God is a being that in some way has a mind. He then says (in addition to saying that his area of expertise is epistemology) that Craig’s criticism that knowledge requires warrant is mistaken; because knowing doesn’t require conclusive proof or that evidence is strong enough to rule out all other option. He says that you might know things without knowing that you know them, and that knowledge isn’t as strong a thing as Craig claims.

With a hint of atheistic presuppositionalism, he says that atheism is part of a a naturalistic worldview, and atheists can’t really prove it, then brings up a god of the gaps argument. Then he goes into the issue of the burden of proof, saying that who has it isn’t clear, even in the face of evidence for the opposition.

He finally says that Craig’s arguments rest on premises which are extremely controversial in philosophy (and that Craig knows this). His main criticism is that Craig’s idea of causation in his cosmological argument is merely an “intuitive ontological principle” which has no real support.

William Lane Craig’s Second Rebuttal:

Craig addresses the question of what we’re trying to achieve in the debate, saying that the existence of God is the most important question we can ask. He says that both sides bear the burden of proof, and that he’s taken that burden in providing his arguments.

He says we all have properly basic beliefs, but that atheism can’t be one, and again asks for a justification for atheism. He says that of course his premises are in dispute – that’s what philosophy is; and then proceeds to further defend the premises of his cosmological argument.

After defending the premises of his moral argument, he says the idea that the universe is caused by nothing is much more irrational than theism.

Klemens Kappel’s Second Rebuttal:

Kappel points to the controversy of Craig’s premises as evidence that we might not be wise to believe them, and says that the dispute weakens the strength of the arguments. He also points to the existence of sympathetic, yet unconvinced, skeptics as more evidence that the arguments are weak.

He says that the importance of God’s existence depends on what God’s properties are (i.e. a deistic god isn’t very important at all). There’s really not much more to say about this portion of the debate – Kappel is mostly restating what he’s already said.

Closing Remarks (Craig and Kappel):

Craig mostly just says that we’ve heard good reasons for theism, and no good reasons for atheism, and reviews his arguments once more. Pretty standard. Kappel says that the rational response to academic disagreement is to reduce confidence, but that there’s also disagreement about this, and that Craig is overstating his case.

Post-debate Thoughts

Craig of course did very well, as usual. But his opening statement was quite different from what he’s used in the past – which I found quite refreshing. Kappel on the other hand did very poorly. His case wasn’t a case at all, but merely an explanation of his view. That’s fine, but it’s not the point of a debate. I was hoping for a lot more from a professional philosopher.