William Lane Craig once again advertised he’s past it last week when he published on the Fox News website A Christmas Gift for Atheists — Five Reasons Why God Exists, demonstrating that he hasn’t upped his game since, well, ever. He is still repeating the same illogical, refuted, lousy arguments. And somehow still thinking atheists are going to fall for it. Other bloggers here have taken it apart in their own way (e.g. PZ and Avicenna). But I’m struck with real sadness that there are still people as smart as Craig who are still convincing themselves with this delusional nonsense. It’s so astonishingly dishonest and irrational. Let me inoculate you.
Let’s Get the Basics Right, Please
First, Craig acts like he doesn’t know (?) that many atheists actually celebrate Christmas. It is not for them “a religious sham,” as Craig claims, but a fun secular holiday entirely based on dead pagan religions. There are no Christmas trees, or day of gift-giving, or flying reindeer porting elves named Santa Clause, or mistletoe, or commands to go caroling, or to gather family on the 25th of December, anywhere in the Bible; in fact, the Bible doesn’t even say Jesus was born in Winter (and indeed Luke’s narrative renders that impossible), whereas the 25th of December was chosen to perpetuate pagan worship of the return of the sun from its wane. In short, there is literally nothing Christian about Christmas. Atheists figured this out decades ago. We’ve been celebrating it as a secular family holiday based on cheer and giving–for quite some time now.
Second, it is either dishonest or outright silly to say “most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief,” and that all we do (really, he says, all we do) is simply repeat the slogan, “There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!” Hmm. I’m pretty sure the top three reasons atheists are atheists are (1) the world is awash with evil and injustice (natural and human) and there is no superbeing doing a thing about it, (2) the only books claiming to be endorsed by a god are awash with ridiculous ignorance, contradictions, and vile teachings, and (3) if a god existed and cared that we knew it, he would tell us, personally (and, being the only actual god, consistently). I would add (4) the universe is very badly designed for life and thus cannot have been designed for it and then (5) there is insufficient evidence to reach any other conclusion. I’ve summarized the case in Why I Am Not a Christian, in just ninety pages. In his latest attempt to persuade us, Craig offers not a single rebuttal to any point there made. He acts as if none of them ever had been. Yet they are the mainstay of atheist reasoning, not the repeating of the slogan “no good evidence!”
Third, technically, Craig could claim that (1)-(4) might reduce to claiming there is no good evidence–given that they are claims that the evidence we do have entails a vanishingly low probability of any god existing, yet some sort of other hidden evidence could presumably reverse that conclusion. But that is a crucial distinction. Craig goes on to list five things he claims are more likely if a god exists than if one doesn’t (though he makes no attempt to determine how much more likely), things supposedly atheists don’t know about (the “good evidence” they say there isn’t), and therefore those five things “up” the probability that a god exists. But none of those five things respond to the evidence to the contrary, summarized in (1)-(4). He is thus willfully ignoring the evidence atheists actually point to, and then, having pretended none of that evidence exists and we never called any attention to it (!), he offers some other completely different evidence. But even if that evidence were more likely if a god existed, the unlikelihood of (1)-(4) if a god exists could be far greater, leading to a net conclusion that god probably does not exist. Even granting everything Craig says.
Thus, for Craig to ignore what atheists actually say, and pretend we don’t say it, suggests to me that maybe he isn’t really writing this article for atheists, but trying to convince fellow believers not to actually go looking to see what we atheists actually say. Because, like most duped Fox audience members, they will assume surely a Fox News editorial would not lie or conceal facts, but would surely mention the actual reasons atheists are atheists and thus show why atheists (actual atheists) are wrong. Surely it would not try to snow them by leaving out pretty much all the key facts. Yet Craig plays right along with standard Fox News tactics and does exactly that.
It is things like this that convince me Craig is actually a liar. He knows his article is a scam, and misleads any Christian who reads it. He knows it won’t convince any atheist. Because he knows what atheists actually argue, not just about (1)-(4), but about his own five claims. But he doesn’t tell Fox News readers a single thing about any of that. He conceals that knowledge from them.
e1: Origin of the Universe
Craig’s first item of “evidence” is the claim that the universe began. By which he actually means, space-time began–since the beginning of the solar system no more required a divine engineer than the beginning of the known cosmos: both could well just be naturally inevitable events in a long string of other events. Hence he calls this evidence “an absolute beginning,” to make clear what he means. But this isn’t evidence. It’s a theory. No cosmological scientist says it is an established fact, or even known, that the universe had “an absolute beginning.” So already Craig is trying to sneak in his own nonscientific, creationist “theory” and claiming it’s a fact requiring explanation. That’s dishonest.
He also claims “the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause,” but there is no logical or factual basis for that generalization. As causes only exist in time, time itself cannot even in principle have a cause. Thus his claim that time itself must be like “everything else” in time is simply absurdist pseudophilosophy. I won’t even bother with the vague handwaving about such a cause (if there even was one) having to be either “transcendent” (whatever that means) or “enormously powerful” (measured how?), or his unstated assumption that that transcendent cause must be a thinking, intelligent spirit-mind with super powers. He establishes none of these things. Nor even explains why he concludes any of them follow.
There isn’t any valid and sound argument to any of these conclusions (and Craig has never produced one–he always handwaves at some key point in every case he has made in all his literature on this for decades now): we do not know that time itself ever began; we do not know that, if it had a beginning, it had to have been caused; and we do not know, if it had a cause, that that cause had to be a mind (or even that it could possibly have been a mind, or that it can’t have been an inevitable outcome of absolute nothingness, and thus had to be neither transcendent nor powerful). There is no scientific evidence supporting any of these assumptions of his, nor any logical proofs of them being necessarily (or even probably) true.
That’s what atheists mean when they say there is “no good evidence.” It’s not a mantra. It’s an accurate description of Craig’s own argument.
Sure, Craig likes to pretend he has scientific evidence and logical arguments, but he doesn’t: on his lying about the facts, see Essential Viewing on Godless Cosmology; on his lying about the logic, see my discussion of what actual mathematicians actually say about infinite series (summarized, with citations, in my Reply to Wanchick and my subsequent Conclusion).
So already, e1, Craig’s first item of evidence, isn’t even evidence (but a conjecture), and even if granted, is not “more likely” if a god existed. In fact, a god could just as well have regarded creating any imperfect world an imperfection of himself and thus a perfect god would actually probably, indeed almost certainly, never create any world. Whereas we can posit any number of far simpler things that would have a high or even nearly certain probability of producing an energetic space-time. God being a super-powerful all-knowing perfect intelligence is in fact an entity with maximal specified complexity–he’s the most complex mind conceivable, and thus among the most complex causes conceivable. Whereas with extremely simple entities (like a minimally-propertied quantum vacuum) we can fully explain an energetic time-space beginning. There are certainly more possibilities like that than we even know. (See 20 Questions.)
So there is no way to get God to be more probable here, and e1 is not more probable with God anyway–in fact, it’s arguably less so–so there is no argument here for a god at all.
And this isn’t new. Craig has been told these things. Again. And again. And again. Does he revise his arguments? No. He just repeats the same old arguments and pretends they’ve never been refuted. He even conceals those refutations (concealing even the fact that they exist) from his readers at Fox News. That is not the behavior of an honest man.
e2: Fine Tuning
Craig’s second item of “evidence” is the claim that the universe has been “finely tuned” to produce life. Which is again not a fact, but a theory. He observes a fact (life is possible in this universe, but not possible in some other imaginable universes) and then merely theorizes that this means the properties of the universe have been “tuned” for such a purpose. In particular he claims “the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range,” but that claim has been refuted–by scientists–again and again.
We actually do not know that there is only a narrow life-permitting range of possible configurations of the universe. As has been pointed out to Craig by several theoretical physicists (from Krauss to Stenger), he can only get his “narrow range” by varying one single constant and holding all the others fixed, which is simply not how a universe would be randomly selected. When you allow all the constants to vary freely, the number of configurations that are life permitting actually ends up respectably high (possibly between 1 in 8 and 1 in 4: see Victor Stenger’s The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning).
And even those models are artificially limiting the constants that vary to the constants in our universe, when in fact there can be any number of other constants and variables, which renders it completely impossible for any mortal to calculate the probability of a life-bearing universe from any randomly produced universe. As any honest cosmologist will tell you. (As well as honest Christians: see Timothy McGrew, Lydia McGrew, and Eric Vestrup, “Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument: A Sceptical View,” in Mind 110.440 [October 2001]: 1027-37.) Yet, some of the scientific models we have (which follow from what we do know, and allow all constants to vary freely) show life-bearing universes to be a common result of random universe variation, not a rare one.
We also do not know this is the only universe. There may have been innumerable universes formed and collapsed before transforming into ours, or there may be innumerable universes co-existing with or extending from ours, or both. And we needn’t merely conjecture their innumerability: leading cosmological theories already entail, even from a single simple beginning, the formation of innumerable differently-configured regions of the universe. This is the inevitable consequence of Chaotic Inflation Theory, for example, the most popular going theory in cosmological physics today. But will Craig tell his readers that? No.
In fact, even without presuming Chaotic Inflation, an endless series of universes is already entailed by present science. Most configurations of constants produce either a collapsing universe (which re-explodes, by crunch or bounce, rolling the dice all over again, so those configurations must be excluded from any randomization ratio) or a universe that accelerates its expansion until it rips apart (as its energy density approaches infinity, which results in another Big Bang, rolling the dice all over again, so those configurations must also be excluded from any randomization ratio) or a universe in between (most of which are life friendly). But even universes in between, if all universes are governed by quantum mechanics, then a Big Bang always has a very small but nonzero probability of occurring. Yet all nonzero probabilities approach 100% as time increases. So even a universe that just coasts along or reaches a future heat death will inevitably end in another Big Bang (after many billions of trillions of years).
That means every possible configuration of constants–every single possible configuration–ends in a reset, a new Big Bang, which re-randomizes those constants. This means, if quantum mechanics is true in all universes and all Big Bangs randomize constants, then our universe has a probability of existing of 100%. It is that certain even if time had a beginning and is not past-eternal. Then our universe will arise a very long time after the first moment of time, having undergone countless transformations (past Big Bangs). But that means we should assume that’s what happened, since it’s 100% exactly what would happen if all that were true is that quantum mechanics governs all universes (which we have no reason presently to doubt) and the constants of a universe are selected at random in any Big Bang (which Craig must suppose, in order to claim they would only arise at random in the absence of a god). And that’s a much simpler explanation than “a super-amazing spirit-mind did it.”
Indeed, it’s worse than that, since not only does science not have his back, but logic deserts him as well. For we can logically deduce the existence of innumerable universes from positing the single simplest entity imaginable at the beginning of it all: a lawless singular point of space-time with no properties other than the absence of all logically impossible states (which, being logically impossible, one should already assume are absent). And since innumerable universes will explain any apparent fine tuning to a virtual 100% probability, apparent fine-tuning cannot be evidence for a god–since to be so, that tuning would have to be more probable if god existed than if the proposed singularity did, but nothing can be more probable than 100%.
But there is an even worse problem than that. Like he does in general, Craig here engages in selection bias, by only choosing the evidence he thinks supports him, and ignoring all the evidence that refutes any claim of intelligent fine tuning. I’ll just quote myself:
This universe is 99.99999 percent composed of lethal radiation-filled vacuum, and 99.99999 percent of all the material in the universe comprises stars and black holes on which nothing can ever live, and 99.99999 percent of all other material in the universe (all planets, moons, clouds, asteroids) is barren of life or even outright inhospitable to life. In other words, the universe we observe is extraordinarily inhospitable to life. Even what tiny inconsequential bits of it are at all hospitable are extremely inefficient at producing life—at all, but far more so intelligent life ….
One way or another, a universe perfectly designed for life would easily, readily, and abundantly produce and sustain life. Most of the contents of that universe would be conducive to life or benefit life. Yet that’s not what we see. Instead, almost the entire universe is lethal to life—in fact, if we put all the lethal vacuum of outer space swamped with deadly radiation into an area the size of a house, you would never find the comparably microscopic speck of area that sustains life (it would literally be smaller than a single proton). It’s exceedingly difficult to imagine a universe less conducive to life than that—indeed, that’s about as close to being completely incapable of producing life as any random universe can be expected to be, other than of course being completely incapable of producing life. (TEC, pp. 295-96)
That is exactly what we would have to see if life arose by accident. Because life can arise by accident only in a universe that large and old. The fact that we observe exactly what the theory of accidental origin requires and predicts is evidence that our theory is correct. (TEC, p. 290)
Because without a God, life can only exist by chemical accident, such a chemical accident will be exceedingly rare, and exceedingly rare things only commonly happen in vast universes where countless tries are made over vast spans of time. Likewise, a universe not designed for us will not look well suited to us but be almost entirely unsuited to us and we will survive only in a few tiny chance pockets of survivable space in it. Atheism thus predicts, with near 100% certainly, several bizarre features of the universe (it’s vast size and age and lethality to life), whereas we cannot deduce any of those features from any non-gerrymandered God hypothesis (while gerrymandered hypotheses all grossly violate Occam’s Razor). [20 Questions]
In short, if atheism is true, we will only ever find ourselves in universes like ours (extremely old and large, extremely hostile to life, but at least barely capable of producing it somewhere at some point eventually), so the universe we observe (including all its apparent fine tuning) has a probability of 100% if there is no god. Whereas if a god created this universe for life, it would far more likely lack these features (it would not need to be extremely old and large, or extremely hostile to life), so the probability of observing the universe we do if god created it is actually very much less than 100%. Our universe is therefore more likely if God does not exist.
So Craig’s claim here is hosed left to right. There is no evidence the universe has to have been “finely tuned” (or was tuned at all), nor any evidence this is or has been the only universe (in fact logic and science sooner argue for there having been countless universes), and yet there is vast amounts of evidence that this universe is very badly designed for life, and in fact only barely hospitable to it and almost never produces it anywhere. See my 20 Questions article (on both fine tuning and bad tuning), but for even more in depth examples, and formalizations of the argument, see my Opening Statement and its Defense in the Carrier-Wanchick debate, and of course my Bayesian demonstration of it in chapter 12 of The End of Christianity. (“Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed”).
To any reasonable person, the case is closed. Yet Craig pretends none of these facts exist, that none of these refutations have been published, and just keeps repeating, unchanged, the same refuted claims, over and over again. And conceals what he is doing from his readers.
Craig’s third item of “evidence” is the claim that morality wouldn’t exist unless there was a god. This is silly, of course. If humans didn’t create morality, they would have remained savages, and civilization would never have come into existence. Morality is what is mechanically necessary for any social system to sustain itself as a civilization (with all its science, technology, and legal and political and educational systems). Thus, we did not need a god to give morality to us. Like science and technology and legal and political and educational systems, we invented morality because we needed it to accomplish our goals (creating a cooperative society), and without it our society would revert to savagery, and we would no longer have all the things we cherish and need to ensure our survival and happiness.
Just as God did not have to exist for us to invent democracy–or for democracy to be a better way to organize a state–so God does not have to exist for us to invent morality–or for morality to be a better way for us to live. In fact, that simply is what morality is: the best way for us to live, given the physical and biological facts we have been saddled with (such as fragile bodies with persistent needs, in an environment of limited resources of difficult access and constant dangers). In any possible universe in which intelligent life is possible, there will always be some set of behaviors (some set of values and behavioral rules) that is best for that intelligent life to adopt–such that, by adopting it, that life will more easily and reliably sustain its happiness and survival. Therefore, morality will exist in every possible universe in which intelligent life is possible.
Therefore, the existence of morality affords no evidence whatever that a god exists.
That is what atheists mean by “there’s no good evidence.”
But again, it’s even worse. For if morality came from a god, that god would have to believe in adhering to it, which would entail his constantly fulfilling his moral duty to right wrongs and help the helpless. Our world would thus be far better governed, and far more compassionately, by the wisest of judges whom no criminal could escape, and the kindest of stewards who would not allow anything like earthquakes or floods or crippling or lethal diseases. That no such steward exists is proved by the fact that they aren’t stewarding. Thus we can be reasonably certain God, if he exists, is not moral, and thus we can be certain morality does not come from Him (since it clearly can’t come from a being who heeds no morality).
In other words, on the matter of e3 (the existence of morality in the world) the state of affairs is actually vastly improbable if God were its cause–since if God caused morality, he would be morally acting in our world in ways confirming his belief in being honest and compassionate and an advocate for justice and a defender of the victimized and disadvantaged. But God does not. Whereas if humans created morality, then what we would observe is exactly 100% what we do observe: that the only intelligent moral agents acting on earth are humans. Thus, yet again, e3 strongly corroborates atheism, not theism.
That morality is a technology (a technology of social cooperation for life-betterment) also entails it not only exists, but that it is objectively true and empirically discoverable in the same way medicine, engineering, and agriculture are. And just like them, no god is needed to explain why that is, or what it’s content is. My formal demonstration of this is in chapter 14 of The End of Christianity (“Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them)”); my less formal but more elaborate explanation and exploration of the fact is in Sense and Goodness without God; and a brief overview can be gleaned from 20 Questions (where we find the same question essentially repeated to pad the list, but where I say additional things for each one: see Q12, Q13, Q14, Q15, and Q16).
Craig’s fourth item of “evidence” is the claim that “historians have reached something of consensus” (no, they really haven’t: see chapter 1 of Proving History) “that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) “and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact.”
Evidence of what fact? The fact, evidently, that God could not cure malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, or cholera, the leading killers of millions in Palestine when Jesus was supposedly there, and that Jesus performed instead just a few exorcisms and faith-healing acts on a small number of people with no verifiable biological symptoms (things like blindness and paralysis and demonic possession, which can easily be psychosomatic: see From Paralysis to Fatigue), while he assiduously avoided ever even so much as encountering, and certainly doing anything about, the millions perishing all around him from real diseases with prominent physical symptoms. That’s hardly a godlike kingdom breaking into the world. That’s just another Benny Hinn.
Jesus, we’re told, was also ignorant of basic facts of the world (despite it supposedly being his own or his father’s creation), like that washing your hands before eating or preparing food is a good practice and to be recommended, as it would save millions of lives. Instead, Jesus condemned the practice as a baseless human tradition, and evidently advised his followers to stop doing it (Mark 7:1-8). Apparently, no one told Jesus about germs. Jesus likewise predicted he would return from heaven within the lifetime of those present, yet didn’t. It’s been nearly two thousand years, still waiting. That’s a failed promise or prediction. (See “At Best Jesus Was a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet” by John Loftus in The Christian Delusion.) That does not look very probable if Jesus was, or was endorsed by, God. It rather looks exactly like what we’d expect if he wasn’t.
Indeed, all this is pretty well conclusive proof that Jesus was not a god and had no divine backing. Because he couldn’t do anything more than Benny Hinn, a con man. There are many other examples of how the historical evidence proves Jesus (if we assume he existed) was just an ordinary guy who had no special powers or knowledge and neither he nor his followers were capable of any special abilities. I survey a lot of this evidence (which is abundant) in chapter two of The End of Christianity (“Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible”).
Craig won’t tell Fox News readers about any of that, or any of the facts (and corrections to his own claims) that I just related above.
Of course Craig then goes on to insist the evidence proves Jesus was raised from the dead. But again, only by lying.
For example, he claims “most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty” (this is actually not true: there is no evidence “most historical scholars” agree with that) and that “various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death” (actually, “most scholars” agree various people believed they saw a supernaturally risen Jesus, not that they actually saw Jesus alive again), and that “the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary” (although, again, there is no evidence “most scholars” agree that they had “every predisposition to the contrary”).
Craig says he “can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.” Because, apparently, when primitive religious fanatics from an ignorant era two thousand years ago, whose testimonies we don’t even have, are said to have claimed that a celestial being spoke to them, the only explanation any reasonable person can think of is that, by gum, a celestial being actually spoke to them. Honestly. Does Craig really believe anyone thinks that’s a convincing argument? After decades of his debating this and attempting to evangelize unbelievers? After all that, he still thinks it’s a good argument? Can he honestly believe that’s even a rational way for anyone to think? That the only good explanation is that celestial beings talk to people…but somehow, none of the other thousands of “celestial beings talk to me” claims throughout history are true, yet amazingly, against all natural odds, this one claim is true?
That’s ridiculous. And I cannot believe Craig is still making this argument with a straight face. I am saddened that anyone is making such an argument…all the more that anyone buys it. In reality, there are plenty of better explanations of these facts, as I have summarized in chapter 11 of The Christian Delusion (“Why the Resurrection Is Unbelievable”) and explored in greater detail in three chapters in The Empty Tomb. I will discuss the most important aspect of this (ancient claims of communications with celestial beings and their actual scientific and anthropological and socio-political causes) with considerable citation of the backing science and scholarship in my forthcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus.
e5: God Talks to Me…But Not to You, So Shut Up and Believe Me Already!
Craig’s fifth and last item of “evidence” is the claim that God (we’re to assume) talks to Christians…but (we’re to assume) all the people of all the other religions throughout history (paganism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism) who claim God is speaking to them are wrong–yet when Craig says God speaks to him, he alone is right. Because reasons.
Craig says, “down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives,” but that is a classic example of his deceitfully misleading method of argument, selectively omitting all the evidence against him, and smoothing over all the serious problems even with the evidence he is singling out (see the first four chapters of The Christian Delusion, as well as the seventh, and eighth). Because an honest statement would be, “Down through history many people have found a thousand different god-beliefs, from paganism to Hinduism to Islam to Mormonism to Kao Dai, and even atheistic philosophical worldviews, from Humanism to Taoism to Marxism, that have transformed their lives, and this was even happening for tens of thousands of years before anyone had ever heard from any god claiming to be Jesus.”
When we thus look at the evidence without Craig’s deceitful omissions, we can clearly see that he doesn’t have any argument here at all. That people think a celestial being speaks to them (in any fashion), or that a personal philosophy has transformed them, clearly has zero evidential value for deciding it’s true. Otherwise, all religions and transformative philosophies are true, which is logically impossible. And since the logically impossible cannot be true, only one possibility remains: people can convince themselves of anything, and are especially prone to mistakenly thinking a substantial change in the way they see the world is evidence that it’s true. But clearly, it’s not. If their transformative power cannot argue that atheistic Marxism or pagan Hinduism are true, then its transformative power cannot argue that Christianity is true.
The more so when we notice that Christianity consists of hundreds of contradictory sects (e.g. Quakerism is radically different from Evangelicalism, and both are radically different from Catholicism, and all are radically different from Mormonism), so the fact that they all have the same transformative power proves that “transformative power” has no evidentiary value. It proves nothing. It leads people more often to false religions, than it does to true ones. Let me repeat that in case you missed the significance of what I just said: Craig’s “evidence” in this case, the transformative power of strongly convinced beliefs, more often leads to false religions than true ones. It is therefore the worst kind of evidence you can ever cite. For anything.
This is thoroughly demonstrated (and its significance thoroughly drawn out) in John Loftus’s book The Outsider Test for Faith. But the basic point is simple: if there are at least a thousand false but transformative religions (as Craig must believe, since he deems all non-Christian-Evangelical religions to be false), and only one true one (as in fact there can only be one truth), then a religion being transformative virtually guarantees that it is false–in fact the probability that it will be false is, by Laplace’s Rule, 99.7%. In other words, almost 100%.
The good thing is that Evangelical Christians tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the lies, omissions, and distortions promulgated by their own well-paid con-men for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of what the actual philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence is today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating…as what it actually is: a once pagan and now secular holiday invented by human beings for their own enjoyment and good. Then they can maybe go one step further and exit their dangerous delusion, and stop hating people and voting to take away their rights or to perpetuate injustices against the disadvantaged, and instead start actually caring about their fellow human beings, and the truth, for a change. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful Christmas present for us all?