Friday, March 28, 2014

Burying Religion

I’ve been keeping to an accommodationist theme this year, but here’s a pretty intense exchange between two of the biggest minds willing to debate the topic of religion vs science, physicists Lawrence Krauss and Christian apologist William Lane Craig. I include it because I think it gives the best arguments from both sides. It’s pretty long so I’ll provide some points you can skip to.

The topic is actually “Has science buried religion?” The first 20 minutes is introductions. Then you might enjoy just listening to Krauss’ 20 minute opening statement. It’s a great statement of why we need to bury religion to produce a more ethical world. WLC then does his thing, claiming science needs religion, for about the same amount of time, then it gets wild. I find it hard summarize Craig since I disagree with him and I know many practicing do too. I think Krauss said it best that his distortions are disservice to anyone, including people of faith.

The moderator does a fantastic job with some great questions, IMO. Around 1:10 he points out that Krauss is using a “greatest good” argument for ethics and points out that is something that has been discussed (and shown to have weaknesses) in secular philosophy for centuries. I think Krauss loses a few points here as he does not care much for philosophy. It leaves him with no tools to defend himself. He attacks Craig for his statements defending the slaughtering of the Canaanites, but Craig uses his logic that God gives us life so He can use whatever means he wants to take life.

The moderator notes that consequentialism and utilitarianism have been rejected by the major monotheisms and they say we should be judged not on making the most people happy but on how we treat the most vulnerable. They stumble around this for a bit and skip over to art and love, but some minor points are made. Krauss makes an awkward aside to Mother Teresa. This is not something he should try to explain in 30 seconds.

Craig probably wins with his own audience when he talks about how his theory of God is consistent. This is one of the few times I’ve heard a major theologian call his beliefs a theory. I think Krauss wins the debate when he explains how science actually works. It’s not just an explanation of what we see that happens to fit the observations. Science continues to review its own assumptions, check its own work, and check if its predictions turn out. If not, it changes.

Craig is left finding straw man arguments of scientist who don’t accept new data, they instead keep trying to alter the interpretation of the facts to fit their preconceived notions. When they get to how science developed historically, Krauss admits Newton and Darwin were religious, but that’s because it was the only game in town at the time. Today most scientists are atheist. Craig has to rely on a study that says scientists start out as non-believers, they are usually people who hated God when they were young, it’s not science that creates atheists instead atheists become scientists. Krauss is a bit thrown by this, but his point that the study actually proves religious indoctrination is the problem, is a good one.

I doubt he converted many with that though. Krauss tends to go pretty hard for the jugular of “religion is child abuse” and “defending genocide is abhorrent”. I think he could really benefit from a little better understanding of philosophy. Throughout, he points to the values of honesty, full disclosure and transparency and Craig is only left with the mystery of God’s righteousness.

Krauss could connect these values to our survival, that we are here because of these values. For a creature to have survived all of the extinction events on this planet it must have some form of these values. At one point Craig has to ask, “but is it good that humans survive?” This is interrupted for a minute by the moderator, but when it gets back to Craig, he says there has to be an objective standard provided for us to know if we are making moral improvements. For Craig of course that is God.

I think a better grounding in philosophy would have helped Krauss bring together all of his other points. He speaks of a better world for as many people as possible and the ability of evidence based knowledge to overcome superstition, but he doesn’t connect this to why we should do that. This leaves him open to the objective morality debate. He tried to bring in the question of who has the right to judge what is good, or in Craig’s case, who gets to decide which God is right, but he had not establish the philosophical ground work to force Craig into answering that.

With Craig, I can’t get past how obvious it is that genocide is wrong and minimizing pain is right. I don’t need to dig any deeper for a philosophical basis for morality, although I realize that is exactly what philosophers do. Even so, he needs to appeal to our fear of death and our need for salvation to support his argument for God. Any one of his premises depends on one of the others, making each one not really a premise at all. I didn’t speak to his arguments much here in my notes because I find them trite. Unfortunately, as long as he continues to deliver them so well, he will continue to a formidable debate opponent.