Monday, April 29, 2013

William Lane Craig versus Rosenberg (part 5)

My series on the February 2013 debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg:
  1. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
  2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
  3. The Applicability of Mathematics to the Physical World
  4. Intentional States of Consciousness in the World
  5. The Historical Facts about Jesus of Nazareth
  6. God can be Personally Known and Experienced
  7. Arguments Against Naturalism
  8. The Argument from Evil
  9. Wrap-Up

In February 2013 atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig over whether faith in God is reasonable (debate begins at around 17:14). I’ve mentioned before the reason why William Lane Craig wins debates, and since this debate is a good example of how not to debate William Lane Craig, I have been going through some of what Rosenberg did wrong and how he could have done a lot better. One happy benefit from this is that in so doing I’ll also be refuting William Lane Craig’s arguments. In this entry I’ll address Craig’s argument from intentional states of consciousness.

Intentional States of Consciousness in the World

As Craig says in the debate, “intentionality is the property of being about something or of something,” being a kind of object-directedness of our thoughts. Craig gives the examples of thinking about his summer vacation and thinking of his wife. Craig’s argument in the debate is this:

  1. If God did not exist, intentional states of consciousness would not exist.
  2. But intentional states of consciousness do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
What Rosenberg did

Rosenberg did pretty much nothing to attack this argument. At least, not in the sense of denying a premise (Craig’s argument may be unsound, but the conclusion does follow from the premises, and for the argument to be unsound there needs to be a false premise). He says a little bit about somewhat indirectly at 1:16:13 to 1:18:26, but he doesn’t directly attack the argument. Rosenberg does say the question of intentionality has nothing interesting to do with theism or atheism, but this is almost disingenuous because Rosenberg himself believes the following equation is true:

Atheism + background knowledge  = intentional states of consciousness do not exist

As such, he does accept the first premise of the argument, even if atheism doesn’t (directly) imply that there are no intentional states of consciousness. It should be noted that Rosenberg thinks it is science that implies the view that intentional states of consciousness do not exist, but Rosenberg also believes science implies atheism. At any rate, Rosenberg does accept the first premise as a result of accepting the above equation (whether he realizes it or not), and I fear he may have given a somewhat misleading impression to the contrary when he said states of intentionality have nothing interesting to do with atheism/theism, because someone might be given the impression that Rosenberg doesn’t accept the first premise when in fact he does. It also seems that if theism were true, it would be more likely that states of intentionality would exist (God would have them if nothing else) than on Rosenberg’s atheistic worldview, especially since an omnipotent God would have the power to create finite minds possessing intentional states. While I believe states of intentionality can also fit into an atheistic worldview, I think Craig is likewise right about states of intentionality fitting into a theistic worldview (at 1:28:38).

This is not to say that the first premise is true or justified; I’m only pointing out that Rosenberg agrees with the first premise and that he might be giving a false impression to the contrary. I should point out that Rosenberg’s particular atheistic worldview is not the only sort of atheistic worldview, and plenty of atheists would disagree with Rosenberg about the truth of the equation and would disagree with premise 1.

What Rosenberg should have done

Rosenberg accepts the first premise of Craig’s argument but denies the second. It is noteworthy that he never attacked the premise of Craig’s argument he believed to be false! He spoke of it and claimed that science supported his views, but he never really went on to make a real argument that science supports the falsity of premise 2. Craig’s argument is sound if both premises are true; if Rosenberg believes premise 1 is justifiably true, wouldn’t it make sense for him to attack the premise he think is false? It would seem so, but then why didn’t he? Perhaps Rosenberg didn’t do so because argument for the falsity of the second premise would take too much time, or perhaps Rosenberg believed (knew?) the audience would not find any of his arguments persuasive even though he personally finds them persuasive. Either way, Rosenberg was in a pretty tough spot if he was to maintain his belief in the first premise.

So what could he have done in that situation? He could have said something like this:

I don’t believe it is atheism per se that implies intentional states don’t exist, but rather our background knowledge, especially science, that implies intentional states don’t exist. But because whether I’m right about what our background knowledge implies about this is not the subject of tonight’s debate, and because I could be wrong about what our background knowledge implies, I’ll play devil’s advocate here so you can better judge for yourselves whether we’re justified in thinking that atheism plus background knowledge implies that we don’t have intentional states.

At this point, he could have challenged Craig’s justification for the first premise and continued to hammer Craig’s failed attempts in justifying the first premise throughout the debate. I myself would have immediately gone after premise 1 (I suspect most atheists would). Craig doesn’t give much of an argument for premise 1 apart from asserting with little justification that material objects don’t have material states of consciousness. But that seems a bit question begging, since a typical physicalist (one who believes that physical reality is all there is) would point to brains as a counterexample. True, most material objects don’t have consciousness, but perhaps consciousness is an emergent property of certain bits of matter, similar to how wetness emerges from hydrogen and oxygen at room temperature when neither hydrogen nor oxygen at room temperature have the property of wetness. Rosenberg could have pointed out that some philosophers see consciousness as an emergent property.

Rosenberg could also have argued that at best intentional states of consciousness is an argument against the view that we are purely physical beings, and not so much an argument for theism (he did this to some degree, but he could have made the point clearer, perhaps by pointing out the existence of atheists who believe our minds have a nonphysical component). He could also have said we don’t really have any good reason to think that our nonphysical minds wouldn’t exist without an all-good, omnipotent, and omniscient deity. If we let magic into our worldview, why not favor the hypothesis of certain bits of matter being arranged in a certain way (as the human brain) creating a nonphysical mind instead of a magical deity creating nonphysical minds whenever the brain is formed? The developed human brain creating a nonphysical mind seems simpler than a magical deity creating nonphysical minds whenever it sees developed human brains. Rosenberg could have put forth this alternative hypothesis—even if he doesn’t believe himself—in playing devil’s advocate to further undermine the convincing force of Craig’s argument.

Though to be fair to Rosenberg, any attack on the truth or justification of the first premise would be problematic if wanted to maintain that atheism plus background knowledge implies that intentional states of consciousness don’t exist, because then he would still believe that Craig’s first premise is true and justified, even if the justification Rosenberg has isn’t quite the same as Craig’s. Craig was pretty quick to suggest or insinuate that Rosenberg agreed with the first premise (at 1:28:38) at which point Craig notes that intentional states fit into a theistic worldview in a way that it doesn’t fit in with atheism. Unfortunately, at least when it comes to Rosenberg’s atheistic worldview, he is right. Thus in my humble opinion, Rosenberg should have just given up on the “atheism + background information” equation I mentioned so that he could make a strong and honest attack on the first premise, since it would be a bit awkward to publically argue for the conclusion’s falsity by attacking a premise you yourself believe to be true and justified. Rosenberg probably wouldn’t like giving up on the first premise, but for good or ill it would be the best way to attack Craig’s argument. After all, the argument succeeds if all the premises are justifiably true, and attacking a premise while granting it is justifiably true has limited value in showing the argument to be unsound.