Friday, 18 November 2011

God Is A Myth - Afterword

A note on methodology
The five talking points above wouldn't, at least to my mind, represent the greatest case for God being a myth. For example, the moral question and the historicity of the resurrection have interesting points to be made but require extrapolation of things that are off-topic. Without spending time arguing for some form of moral standard, criticising objective moral value as myth can be (and often is) taken as an admission of moral nihilism. Likewise the historical Jesus question is useful to the extent that it can be used to highlight the problem of miracles and the reliability of testimony.

Perhaps because Craig was the subject at hand, or more likely because I fancy myself to show Craig up on multiple levels, it seemed like a good idea to take Craig's arguments and even some of his words as a template to lay out my case. I found a transcript of one of his debates (with Dr. Tooley) and grabbed out the five standard arguments he normally uses, changing a few words to argue the contrary.

I also tried to mimic Craig's argument style, and in particular the way he uses authorities to make his point for him. Generally, I find this tactic deceptive, as can amount to using authorities as mouthpieces for his own case, especially when he does so deceptively. I did try to be fair to those I cited, and in many cases those who I've cited have played a part in shaping my position.

There were a few main points I wanted to hammer home. The first was the cultural nature of belief, and that culture can even go so far as to shape perception of reality. The second was the role of the mind in shaping how we perceive reality, and that gods are explicable psychologically. And the third was that scientific explanation has not only replaced invocations to gods, but shown why the projection of gods is unjustified.

The case for God being a myth doesn't prove that no gods are out there, God as we conceive it could exist while our understanding of God could be born out of ignorance and projection. A real alien ship landing won't stop a lot of what is currently attributed to aliens being anything other than a fiction. There may be a god, but we have every reason to think that God is a mythic construct. If we're not following reason and evidence to a conclusion, then it's taking a leap of faith - a leap of faith that's unjustified given how we treat all other mythic constructs.

What Craig's argument proves
I don't think it's an unfair assessment of Craig's debating strategy to say that he deals in superficial plausibility. His rapid fire elucidation of his cumulative case combined with a similar strategy for each argument themselves makes it seem like he has a very compelling case. It certainly makes it hard to refute in the short time allowed for rebuttal. But does the case have the powerful cumulative nature that Craig claims? I'd contend not.

Taking Craig's five standard arguments that constitute his cumulative case, only two constitute arguments for theism and only one of those is an argument - as Craig himself admits. There's a big gap between the cosmological, fine-tuning, and moral arguments, and the monotheistic deity argued for by Craig. One could accept those arguments and be reasonable in rejecting theism. There's the additional problem of whether the arguments reach the same conclusion - is the designer to account for fine-tuning the same as the creator who brought existence from nothing?

So the only argument for theism is the historicity of the biblical Jesus, and even then Craig hedges his bet and puts knowing the historicity beyond the argument and into personal experience. Here, I think, there's a reasonable case to be made that if the argument holds then it's a powerful case for theism. In the sense of a cumulative argument, however, I can only take the first three arguments as a means to create the case for the possibility of a resurrection. But again, there's the problem of establishing that Jesus is the creator of something from nothing, or the grounding of objective moral values.

His final argument about personally knowing God isn't an argument, and as such doesn't contribute to the cumulative case. Indeed, the message of the final argument is that one can know it's all true irrespective of whether there is a case. It seems that one has to follow on arguments 1-4 to establish a theistic God to be justified in 5. But more likely, since this argument is meant to be a means to knowledge of 1-4, any attempt to justify 5 through 1-4 is circular.

I think there are two approaches one could take with Craig's case. The first is looking at it as if Craig is trying to make the case for God from the facts about the universe. The second is that Craig's case depends on that experience of God. And reading through his arguments in a number of debates, I think his case makes more sense the second way. That once one accepts Jesus and experiences the holy spirit, questions about the origin of the universe, morality, and even the resurrection, are explained by God as the best fit.

So given arguments 1-3 have a gap to theism, I'd argue that Craig's case either rests on whether the historical evidence for a resurrected Jesus is compelling enough to justify the witness to the holy spirit, or whether the witness to the holy spirit is compelling enough to justify a resurrected Jesus.

Craig's use of language
In Craig's debate with Dr Tooley, he started off his moral argument this way: "For example, the late J.L. Mackie of Oxford University, one of the most influential atheists of our time, admitted, [Mackie quote] But in order to avoid God's existence, Mackie therefore denied that objective moral values exist."

Such a statement is incredibly misleading, as J.L. Mackie didn't make any admission as if it was some failing of his position, rather he said it matter of factly and gave arguments in support of his position. He started out his book Ethics: Inventing Right And Wrong with "There is no objective ethics." Nor was he holding that position in order to avoid God's existence.

Later on Craig argued: "But the fact is that objective values do exist, and we all know it. There is no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of physical objects." Again, Craig is posturing through language rather than actually establishing it. His moral argument isn't so much established as it is appealed to through his sentence structure. "Even Ruse himself admits" is putting the icing on the cake of a wholly misleading argument.

He did the same thing in his recent defence of the Canaanite genocide: "Emotional outbursts take the place of rational discussion", "So at most the non-theist can be alleging that biblical theists have a sort of inconsistency [...] It’s an internal problem for biblical theists, which is hardly grounds for moral outrage on the part of non-theists.", "If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all."

And on his original article: "Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation." Remember, he is talking about the command to exterminate infants! "Death" in this case was the order from God to slaughter children! To "die in infancy" was to be violently slaughtered by Israeli soldiers.

"I’ve had the pleasure of debating Craig twice, a number of years ago. [...] Apparently, by that time I had gotten a degree in philosophy, I knew much more about his rhetorical tricks and pomposity (“Surely, Prof. Pigliucci does not believe that...” — implying that if I believed it, I was a certifiable idiot)." - Massimo Pigliucci

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