Friday, May 31, 2013

William Lane Craig versus Rosenberg (part 9)

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. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life
  5. Intentional States of Consciousness in the World
  6. Objective Moral Values and Duties in the World
  7. The Historical Facts about Jesus of Nazareth
  8. Arguments Against Naturalism
  9. Wrap-Up

Introduction

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. In this entry I’ll address Craig’s various arguments against naturalism.

Arguments Against Naturalism

In his first rebuttal phase, Craig goes on what at first appears to be a long series of red herrings: arguments against naturalism. At around 1:01:04 Craig describes “epistemological naturalism” as saying “science is the only source of knowledge” and “metaphysical naturalism” as saying “only physical things exist.” At around 1:04:28 onward, he advances these arguments against metaphysical naturalism:

Frist, the argument from intentionality:

  1. If naturalism is true, I cannot think about anything.
  2. I am thinking about naturalism.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Second, the argument from meaning:

  1. If naturalism is true, no sentence has any meaning.
  2. Premise (1) has meaning.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Third, the argument from truth:

  1. If naturalism is true, then there are no true sentences.
  2. Premise (1) is true.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Fourth, the argument from moral praise and blame.

  1. If naturalism is true, I am not morally praiseworthy or blameworthy for any of my actions.
  2. I am morally praiseworthy or blameworthy for some of my actions.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Fifth, the argument from freedom (which appeals to the alleged existence of free will):

  1. If naturalism is true, I do not do anything freely.
  2. I am free to agree or disagree with premise (1).
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Sixth, the argument from purpose:

  1. If naturalism is true, I do not plan to do anything.
  2. I planned to come to tonight’s debate.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Seventh, the argument from enduring (which involves one being the same person for more than a moment, thus allowing one to be blameworthy for past actions):

  1. If naturalism is rue, I do not endure for two moments of time.
  2. I’ve been sitting here for more than a minute.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Eighth, the argument from personal existence:

  1. If naturalism is true, then I do not exist.
  2. I do exist!
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

In most of these arguments, it’s the first premise that is really questionable, so what is Craig’s support for the first premises? The claim that Rosenberg agrees with them!

Rosenberg’s Response

It may well be true that Rosenberg’s skepticism of theism is rooted in scientism or naturalism, as Craig claims around 1:04:42, but all this is irrelevant to the actual reasonableness of theism. Even assuming that Craig hasn’t (even if inadvertently) built straw men of Rosenberg, surely things like “sentences have no meaning” aren’t shared by most atheists.

Thankfully, in his rebuttal Rosenberg does try to separate the issue of naturalism and atheism in 1:13:02 to 1:18:25, where he says atheism and the other claims follow from science, rather than the set of claims following from atheism per se, but he wasted several minutes doing so instead of a much shorter response like, “While those other strange claims of mine are interesting topics in their own right, they are not the subject of tonight’s debate. Tonight I’m arguing that theism is false, not that naturalism is true.”

At first blush, Craig’s arguments against naturalism seem like a string of red herrings (certainly I thought so at first). How is all Craig’s talk against naturalism relevant to the debate? Craig might have suspected this concern because he explicitly answers this question at 1:30:25.

He [Rosenberg] says these bizarre consequences that he affirms don’t follow from atheism, they follow from scientism; but my argument was that scientism or epistemological naturalism doesn’t imply metaphysical naturalism

First, Craig gets Rosenberg’s claim wrong; Rosenberg claimed they followed from science not scientism (scientism is, roughly, the view that science is the best or only source of knowledge; it’s more or less synonymous with what Craig calls “epistemological naturalism”). Moving on:

Remember the case of W.V.O. Quine, “but if God does not exist, then I think metaphysical naturalism is true.” Metaphysical naturalism doesn’t follow from epistemological naturalism, but it does follow from atheism. The most plausible form of atheism is I think metaphysical naturalism, but there are all those absurd consequences that result from that that I described. He [Rosenberg] bites the bullet and affirms these bizarre consequences. Why not stand back and say, “No, this is crazy; this is not the world we live in”?

So Craig’s set of arguments against naturalism is not a complete red herring because Craig’s reasoning seems to be like this:

  1. If atheism is true, then metaphysical naturalism is true.
  2. Metaphysical naturalism is not true.
  3. Therefore, atheism is not true.

Craig would need to justify premise (1) though and he didn’t quite do that in the debate. Moreover, the support Craig gives for premise (2) is Rosenberg’s own claims about what science implies. Granted, it stands to reason that if Rosenberg believes science implies it, then Rosenberg similarly believes that naturalism + background information (including science) = those far-out claims being true. Still, that support for the first premise seems awfully weak. Why? To echo a bit from what I said about Craig’s argument from intentional states of consciousness in the world, Rosenberg could have said something like:

I don’t believe it is naturalism per se that implies things like sentences not having genuine meaning, but rather our background knowledge, especially science, that implies such claims. But because whether I’m right about what science 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 things like sentences not really having meaning.

At which point, Rosenberg could have challenged Craig’s justification for the first premises and continued to hammer Craig’s failed attempts in justifying the first premises throughout the debate, if he chose to address Craig’s argument from naturalism at all. If he did not want to do that, he could have said this:

It should be remembered that tonight I’m arguing that theism is false, not that naturalism is true. Craig seems to think that naturalism is the most plausible alternative to atheism, but that won’t matter if atheism plus our background knowledge does not imply the apparently absurd consequences he thinks they do. So for Craig’s arguments to be relevant, Craig would need to show that atheism plus our background knowledge implies those consequences. I don’t believe it’s atheism or naturalism per se that implies things like sentences not having genuine meaning, but rather our background knowledge, especially science, that implies such claims. But because whether I’m right about what science 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 things like sentences not really having meaning.

At which point, Rosenberg could have pointed out that Craig didn’t really given any justification for the idea that atheism plus background knowledge implies those consequences, and it would have been Craig who wasted a bunch of time (it took a bit of time arguing for all those arguments against naturalism), not Rosenberg.

Again I’d like to stress the importance of thinking analytically, especially when debating an analytic philosopher theist like Craig. Craig, for all his faults, typically presents arguments in which the conclusion follows from the premises when he presents deductive arguments. Notice that while all of Craig’s arguments against naturalism may be unsound, they at least have the decency to be valid in the sense that the conclusion follows logically and necessarily from the premises. At that point, the question becomes whether the premises are true and justified. If a theist presents a valid argument, the onus is on him to justify the premises. If a theist has failed to adequately justify an important premise in a debate, it’s the atheist’s duty to point it out.