In my previous post I outlined some general observations and responses to the conversation between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss in Brisbane on the topic of “Has Science buried God?” There’s been a lot of interest in the discussion in the last few days, so in lieu of the audio or video being available, I present forthwith some of the key arguments and rebuttals presented throughout the evening, with some personal reflections along the way.
Disclaimer: While these comments give a flavour of some of the topics covered during the debate, they are also my personal recollections and responses. Please refer to actual recordings, as I will, once they’re online. In fact, why not drop our speakers a line to let them know you’re super keen to participate in the conversation and you want to see/hear the recordings as soon as possible!
According to Professor Krauss’ Twitter feed, the video may be released online, so get to it!
Update: Here’s the case William Lane Craig put forward in his opening address: The 6 ways science and theology are mutually relevant (on Reasonable Faith)
Update: The video for the Brisbane conversation between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig on the topic ‘Has Science Buried God?’ has now been released. View the video here.
For the highlights of the debate, please read on…
The format of the conversation was a 15-minute address from each speaker, followed by a moderated discussion on some of the ideas raised in each address, followed by questions from the audience (using SMS or the Twitter hashtag #lunqa which will probably be used in the future discussions).
Lawrence Krauss presented the opening address, which began with a statement that he would not attempt to disprove God but rather encourage rational thinking. While I think this is great advice, this would have immediately put many people offside, as if to say you have to choose religion or rationality, a view that ignores the vast numbers of scientists of faith in the past and the present professing faith in God, not to mention people in the audience. Perhaps that’s putting it too simplistically, I’ll have to re-listen to the debate once the audio becomes available.
That said, Krauss did make some good points around engaging and examining, and explaining the beauty and power of the scientific process vs saying “God did it”. Krauss discussed that science revealed that gods were not responsible for natural forces. None of these points were overly controversial or new, at least not to me. Krauss then spent some time raising questions such as which god is the right God given the multiplicity of religions and that one’s belief is influenced by one’s location and culture (comment: an argument that has nothing to do with the truthfulness of those beliefs); the similarities between the Gospel accounts of Jesus and ancient myths of other gods (comment: showing something is similar to something else does not prove the truthfulness of one thing or the other. It just says they are similar).
Following that, Krauss restated his commitment to honesty and transparency, before presenting some instances where Craig has supposedly misrepresented others. This segment in fact had no relevance to the central topic. The move was out of a politician’s playbook, playing the man and not the argument. With it came Krauss’ cleverest strategic move – raising the difficult question of the slaughter of the Canaanites by the Israelites, and according to Krauss, the reason why Dawkins won’t debate Craig. Craig had attempted to create an ethical theory on which this incident is compatible with an all loving God. More on that later, but many aspects of Krauss presentation were peripheral to the central question and Krauss successfully railroaded the discussion later to come back to these points.
William Lane Craig began with Time magazine’s 1966 cover “Is God Dead?” in which time speculated the death of God at the hand of science. He then presented Time magazine’s later cover story “Is God coming back to life?” followed by a brief history of the recent flourishing relationship, at least in the academic world, between science and philosophy/theology. Craig then set out to explain 6 ways in which science and theology are mutually relevant, for example, theology provides the conceptual framework and assumptions required for science, such as logic, laws; religion provides answers to metaphysical questions raised by science; science can assist in interpreting religious claims, if I recall correctly. Craig had 3 other arguments but focused on those mentioned.
This presentation was more in the form of a lecture in which Craig tried to lay out the arguments and evidence, as is his usual form. Craig maintained his composure despite being buzzed annoyingly by Krauss, and perhaps the starkest difference between the two presentations was the lack of ad hominem attacks on his opponent; and he stayed on topic throughout.
In the moderated discussion and question time that followed, there were two key areas which stand out in my memory- science produces better morality with a central focus on the slaughter of the Canaanites, and the historical relationship between science and theology.In his opening address Krauss claimed that science brings about better morals because it has shown that groups historically persecuted with alleged religious justification are equal, or certain behaviours appear in the natural world (the is-ought argument?) And now we treat them better. Thus we have moral improvement. Craig was quick to highlight the distinction between moral change and moral improvement. If there is no objective morality/value, the most you could say is that such shifts in attitudes towards women, homosexual people and slaves, are moral change rather than moral improvement.
The second component to this argument related to the slaughter of the Canaanites by the Israelites as ordered by the God of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. This topic was raised at least twice during the debate. Craig attempted to explain and then defend his view. He emphasised this was an ethical theory to attempt to explain how this incident might be compatible with an all loving God: God is giving the land to Israel, following their salvation from Egypt, the land is occupied by Canaanites, who did not worship God and who expressed this in their perverse acts and worship, and so Israel would be God’s instrument of justice upon them. God tells the Israelites to kill those who refuse to flee, and to kill their children. Craig argues that this is compatible with a loving God because for the adults, this was God’s judgement but for the children, who were innocent, this is their salvation because they enter God’s presence.
Now I’m not going to discuss the merits or otherwise of the argument, I’ll leave it to the video if it becomes available and let the discussion speak for itself. It’s a difficult part of scripture but not an insurmountable one, as Nathan suggests here (we need to read the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Jesus,revealed in the New Testament) and as Craig may do in a different way elsewhere. In the context of the debate, it was quite tedious, a continuous sticking point for Craig, especially as he was trying to counter Krauss interruptions and it was to me off topic. Craig later said he was happy to be wrong on his theory, but what he needed at the time was to turn the tables on Krauss, which he did to some degree when he wasn’t being talked over.
Craig pointed out that in order for Krauss to make the case this required, if I heard correctly, both the assumptions of historical validity of the account and that of innate human worth; the first of which I doubt Krauss was prepared to accept, and on the second point, when pressed Krauss couldn’t articulate why immoral acts are wrong apart from causing pain and suffering. He needed to assume humans had worth, something that scientific methods are unable to determine. Craig proposed that science cannot tell you whether the experiments conducted by Nazi scientists were moral and ethical. Rather than address the claim, Krauss replied the Nazis are always used in these discussions of atheism and science. While this is true, he really just side-stepped the question. There was a very brief discussion on consequentialism and utilitarianism, for which I refer you and myself to the recording.
On the second key topic, there was a question related to Craig’s opening address that belief in God provided the environment in which scientific enquiry flourished during the seventeenth century onwards. Krauss seemed a little slow, perhaps reluctant to answer this claim, with Craig claiming Krauss history on this relationship being mostly wrong. Krauss concluded essentially ‘thanks, good job religion, now you can go home.’ (Comment: which is how scientific methods work; a kind of methodological naturalism, you can’t have a god in there disrupting the laws. science relies on this regularity.) His point, which seemed an inordinate amount of time coming, underscored his basic message that God is buried because God is unnecessary. I must revisit this point. Again, happy for anyone else to chime in with a correction on what was said here.
The fine tuning argument came up with Krauss responding by saying we don’t know if changing the constants wouldn’t result in a life permitting universe, but there wasn’t an extended discussion over it.
One curious point for me was that Krauss didn’t like to use the word believe. The primary meaning of the word belief is the psychological state of holding something to be true. It’s okay to believe stuff. I believe the acceleration due to gravity of an object near the earth in a vacuum is approximately 9.8m per second per second. I hold that to be true. I believe it. Krauss said he preferred instead to say things are more or less likely, to which Craig responded he would have to qualify everything with such statements, something Krauss seemed to suggest scientists do that all the time. I’m sure I’ll be corrected when the audio comes out or if someone who was there stumbles over this post.
The final question of the evening was regarding what factors would lead each speaker to doubt their position. Craig answered first saying questions of evil and suffering, the apparent silence of God and the hiddenness of God. Krauss responded to the question saying that if he went out and he looked at the stars and God communicated to him through that, perhaps in Aramaic, or English, because he’s heard God speaks English too. It was as an amusing note to end on, considering the rest of the debate.
Well, that’s a brief sketch of the keynote addresses and the conversation as I recall them. You should test these, as I will, against the actual video when it is available online. You know what to do:
Go to it.