Examining the Content of the Krauss Debates Part 1

Examining the Content of the Krauss Debates Part 1

The "God of the Gaps" is dead! Why does it keeping coming back up? What about the thousands of gods science has eliminated?


Transcript Examining the Content of the Krauss Debates (Part 1)

Kevin Harris: Welcome to the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig, there are a couple of things to fear when you go to Australia: one would be great white sharks and the other would be people who are going to attack your character. But we want to get into some of the meat now of these three debates you’ve had with Professor Lawrence Krauss and look at the issues themselves. We’ve discussed some of the side issues, some of the more sensational issues, now let’s get down to the event. “Life, the Universe and Nothing: Has Science Buried God?” Talk about the format of this debate and the moderator, if you would.

Dr. Craig: The moderator was a man who works for ABC television in Australia, that is to say, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. They had hoped to televise this event but Dr. Krauss declined permission to allow them to do so. But Scott was assigned to be the moderator. And the event itself featured two opening statements from each of us in which we were to lay out the basic position that we would defend with respect to the question, has science buried God? And then after those two fifteen minute presentations Scott was to lead us in a moderated discussion of the various arguments that were brought up in the opening speeches, and then take questions from the audience via Twitter, I believe it was, so that we could interact with what the audience was thinking.

Kevin Harris: There was a later reflection on this series of debates. Krauss offered his, you offered yours. He said this, “I think I’ve come to understand. I’ve debated Dr. Craig one time before, and I’m very happy that we didn’t do a debate format because a debate format really isn’t an information format. It is a rhetorical device which I think is why Dr. Craig enjoys them.” Now that is the coaching that I hear from how to debate Dr. Craig and so forth, “This is all rhetoric, ya, ya, ya.” We’ve addressed that before in podcasts. He goes on to say, “I wanted to have a discussion and we’ve tried to do that. I have been, and I will say also, the first two have reinforced my notion: the discussions are best done without a moderator. I think the moderator gets in the way, and I think, frankly, both nights in some ways the moderator got in the way for different reasons,” and so on. Again, debates as not being information?

Dr. Craig: Oh, that is so false. In fact just the opposite is true. This is so disingenuous. The debate format allows each speaker to have a set amount of time to develop his ideas and present his arguments whereas in this dialogue format, especially when there’s no moderator or the moderator is weak, the other party can interrupt and talk over the other person so that it’s impossible to develop any sort of argument at any length. In fact one of the challenges for me of participating in these dialogues I must say, Kevin, is that Krauss would suddenly bring something totally out of left field that was utterly irrelevant to what I was talking about and you’ve got to respond to it. For example, when we were talking about the mathematical structure of the universe and how mathematics is applicable to the physical world, all of a sudden he says, “Well, if God’s a mathematician then why didn’t he reveal calculus to Moses?” I mean, what in the world does that have to do with anything? It’s so bizarre! And so the dialogue format, I think, is not one that fosters information. On the contrary, Krauss used it for rhetorical purposes. He used it to bring up red herrings and personal attacks that were clearly rhetorical in nature. So I think he’s being very disingenuous here. And the reason he doesn’t want a moderator is plain. In these dialogues he interrupted me ten times more than I interrupted him in each one of these. So I think it was very clear why he wanted this format.

Kevin Harris: Bill, a debate is not a time for one to go on one’s personal rant, to pull out of one’s arsenal all of one’s pet peeves about a topic, unless they’re relevant somehow. But someone says, I have a platform so I’m going to bring up Canaanites, and I’m going to bring up a talking snake, and I’m going to bring up Osiris.

Dr. Craig: Osiris and Dionysus.[1]

Kevin Harris: I’m going to bring up Jim and Tammy Baker and how they messed up their stuff, and then I’m going to talk about the Republican party.

Dr. Craig: Yes, yes. [laughter]

Kevin Harris: Now Krauss kind of did this in a bit, as we’ll see; I’m not saying – I’m not attributing – all those things to him but it’s that spirit of, “I got to get my licks in here even if they’re red herrings.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I really appreciate you bringing this up, Kevin, because I think what you’re saying is very relevant.

Kevin Harris: By the way I just ranted, but, you know, go ahead. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: No, no, you were making a very, very good observation about the Brisbane talk as well as actually about the others was well; namely, Dr. Krauss didn’t develop a sustained intelligent case for his answer to the question that was under debate each evening. Instead, as you say, it was what we would call a shotgun approach where you just blast buckshot in every direction and you bring up things like Dionysus and Osiris and Jesus, about how religion is dying out more and more in the world, about there being lots of gods in the world and why should you believe in one instead of all the others. Just one little New Atheist slogan after another and none of them developed at any length with a clear statement of premises and conclusions. So this is, I think, a very, very valid criticism in general of Dr. Krauss’ opening statements. They weren't on topic, they were just a sort of scatter shot approach of New Atheist arguments against religious belief.

Kevin Harris: He goes on to say, “and as far as discussions are concerned I’ve learned a lot about, I think, where Dr. Craig is coming from that I hadn’t really appreciated before: the earnestness of his intention to basically, because he believes something, to try and prove that belief to be reasonable in spite of any evidence or reason to the contrary. Often we talk past one another, as I think people expected, but evidence or reason to the contrary.” Well, let me break this down because he continues on. What he’s saying is, you have your belief and then you do whatever contortions are necessary to justify it.

Dr. Craig: Yes. In the Melbourne dialogue, Kevin, near the end of that dialogue he said, “I now have come to see that Dr. Craig believes deeply what he says, and therefore any argument that validates God is reasonable to him.” And that is simply demonstrably false, Kevin. I am persuaded that the arguments that I offer for God’s existence are good arguments. And it took many years before I came to think that about some of them. For example, for many years I did not think that the contingency argument offered by Leibniz was a good argument because I thought the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false. It wasn’t until I encountered Steve Davis’ statement of the Leibnizian cosmological argument from contingency that I saw that the key premise could be based upon a very modest version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and that when it is so based then the argument, I think, is quite good. Similarly, for years I thought the ontological argument was unsound. It seemed to me to be trying to argue from the concept of God to the existence of God and I thought that couldn’t be done. And it wasn’t until I really understood Plantinga’s version of the argument and actually in discussions with my atheist philosopher friend Quentin Smith that I began to see the credibility of the key premise of the ontological argument – that possibly God exists – that I came to accept that argument as sound. Even more recently it was only with the Rosenberg debate that I began to offer the argument from intentionality for the existence of God as an ultimate mind that makes sense of a world in which intentional states of consciousness exist. So it is simply demonstrably false that because of my deep belief in the truth of theism that that makes me think that just any old argument for theism is reasonable. Indeed, again, to try to turn the tables, it looks actually more like Dr. Krauss believes so deeply in atheism that any old argument against theism that he encounters he takes to be a good argument even though in many cases these are sophomoric and obviously unsound.[2]

Kevin Harris: The sword cuts both ways.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: When you’re talking about trying to justify your belief or defend your belief, it’s yet to be shown whether it’s an improper or invalid justification rather than solid.

Dr. Craig: That’s a very good point, Kevin. The truth of the premises of an argument and the validity of the logic have nothing to do with the depth of conviction on the part of the person who offers them. Even if that person is totally biased and offers this argument because he is completely in the tank for his worldview that does nothing to affect or adjudicate the truth of the premises and the validity of the logic. And that’s the wonderful thing about arguments, isn’t it? They aren't person-dependent. Even if that person never existed, if this argument were offered by a machine, it would still be either sound or unsound based upon the validity of the inferences and the truth of the premises. So we can just get away from this sort of ad hominem concern with whether or not a person is gullible, and look at the arguments.

Kevin Harris: Professor Krauss went first, and in his opening statement he started to talk about honesty and transparency, the importance of full disclosure, and in that light he said – he fired the first salvo here, I know this isn’t getting really into many of the issues – but he says, “I detest the lies and distortion that have been associated with William Lane Craig, and I can’t hide that.”

Dr. Craig: Yes, and then follows the personal attack upon me and you, Kevin, for the misattribution of certain quotations in our review of Krauss’ and Dawkins’ movie, which we’ve addressed in a previous podcast. It was an honest mistake on my part which I acknowledged and which we corrected before Krauss ever brought it up. So it wasn’t a matter of deliberate distortion and misrepresentation, it was an honest mistake which we acknowledged and corrected.[3] Now what’s interesting to me, though, Kevin, about this claim of honesty, transparency, and full disclosure that Krauss propounds or extols, is that in a couple of ways I think this really comes back to bite him. For example, in this dialogue itself I say later on, I agree with your values with respect to honesty, transparency, full disclosure, and I also am against deliberate distortion and misrepresentation. And then I say to him, I think that there is no one who has been more guilty of a deliberate distortion and misrepresentation of contemporary science than your claim that science can plausibly explain the origin of the universe out of nothing. Because in every case he is not talking about nothing, he is talking about a physical system which undergoes a change from one state to another. So I think that Professor Krauss has actually impaired the public understanding of science rather than improved it by his deliberately distorting and misrepresenting these scientific theories. That’s one way in which he’s guilty of this same problem. The other way emerges in the Melbourne dialogue, Kevin, and we can perhaps talk about that later, and that’s when he presents or puts up a PowerPoint of a private email message that he received from Alexander Vilenkin in which he deletes key qualifying expressions from Vilenkin that give quite the opposite impression than the one that Krauss was trying to convey. So you talk about full disclosure, honesty, and transparency, and then you look at the way he gave this doctored quotation from Alexander Vilenkin and ask, who is the one that’s guilty of deliberate distortion and misrepresentation?

Kevin Harris: Yeah, he said it was just technical stuff after the ellipses and things like that. But it turned out to be it was very important for the point on what Vilenkin has worked on.[4]

Dr. Craig: Exactly.

Kevin Harris: You had an opportunity to bring that slide back up and look further at that private email and compare that with some of the other things that Vilenkin has written.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, and I think we can come back to that when we talk about the Melbourne event. But those who listen to the Brisbane event and hear Krauss extolling the virtues of honesty and full disclosure and transparency need to then look at his own track record with regard not only to his characterization of modern cosmological theories but also his handling of this email message from Vilenkin.[5]

Kevin Harris: Let’s talk about that private email when it comes up in the debate in Melbourne. Back to this one. The first part of Dr. Krauss’ opening statement was to point out that there are thousands of gods out there and then he brings up that phrase, “We atheists just believe in one less god than you do. You’re an apologist against all the thousands of gods out there. We don’t believe in those. Well, just do a little more math and you’ll even get rid of your god as well (small ‘g’).” So he starts with that, that science has buried these localized limited gods like Thor and shown that Thor is not responsible for lightning, and so Thor has been kicked out of the lightning gap.

Dr. Craig: Right, that’s the god of the gaps argument basically that he’s presenting here.

Kevin Harris: Thor is the mascot for god of the gaps, by the way. I mean he’s number one on the charts.

Dr. Craig: Poor guy.

Kevin Harris: Poor guy. Now we’ve figured out that he wasn't responsible for lightning. So, thousands of gods.

Dr. Craig: Yes. I think what our atheist listeners, Kevin, need to understand is how really embarrassingly bad this argument is. The difference between theism and atheism is that theism holds that there is a God; atheism denies that there is a God. So these are contradictory statements; they are polar opposites. And so in no sense can the theist be called an atheist as they claim. The theist believes that there is a God and that is the contradictory of the statement that there is no God. Now when Dr. Krauss says “These other gods have been disproved, how likely is it that one god exists and the others don’t?” – that’s a ridiculous argument, Kevin, because the probability that a certain god exists will be weighed against the evidence for that being. And it’s perfectly possible that the evidence could rule out all of these other deities, but the evidence would commend the existence of a certain deity. To just give a simple illustration: imagine that the police are looking for the suspected murderer of some victim, and they’ve had line-up after line-up after line-up of suspects go through and none of them is ever identified; everyone has been exonerate, none of them is the murderer. Now, you say, well, how likely is it that the next guy that they bring in is the murderer? Well, the question will be, that depends on the evidence. If the next guy that they bring in has fingerprints that match those found on the weapon and if his DNA is found on the victim then that makes it highly probable that the next guy that is brought in is the criminal, the guilty one, even though all these others who have gone before have been ruled out by the evidence. And so with respect to these deities you’ve got to look at the evidence of the cosmological, teleological, moral argument, contingency argument, resurrection of Jesus, and so forth; and then the question is: how probable is it with respect to this evidence that God exists? And the answer can be: it’s highly probable that this God exists just as the evidence could make it highly probable that this man is the criminal who perpetrated the crime.

Kevin Harris: What if this world were so weird that these gods actually exist – Thor and his hammer and all these gods. We would still require a God of the universe, a creator, a beginner, a cause, something ontologically ultimate, wouldn’t we? Even if these guys are running around with lightning in their hammer.

Dr. Craig: Oh yeah, well that’s very true. Even if there existed these sort of finite, higher-than-human beings it would do nothing to affect the fine-tuning of the universe, the need for an explanation of why the universe exists rather than nothing, a ground for objective moral values and duties. It would just mean the universe is a little fuller of finite creatures than what we thought before.

Kevin Harris: Bill, am I right that we perhaps need to press this point a little bit, that we’re really talking about a category error here? Later on Dr. Krauss calls God, your God, the invisible man in the sky. Now, so we’re talking about a man, we’re talking about a sky, we’re talking about a location, we’re talking about a material being.[6]

Dr. Craig: I do think you’re right, Kevin, that a lot of our unbelieving friends have a very anthropomorphic concept of God as the sky-daddy or some person, some human person that’s up there, akin to these finite gods of ancient mythology. And of course that’s just not the concept. But the point is, the overriding point is, that from the fact that we don’t believe in the existence of many other gods absolutely nothing follows about the probability of the God of classical theism because you have to look at the evidence and ask, how probable is it relative to the evidence that this God exists? And it could be very probable that God exists relative to the evidence even though the existence of these other beings would be highly improbable.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Krauss went on to say that all of these gods have been buried by science because science works. He gives the illustration of farmers used to pray when it didn’t rain; now they go to a meteorologist and we’re all better off for that. So this utilitarian view of science – science works.

Dr. Craig: Yes, well what is at stake here, again, Kevin, and I hope our listeners are getting the point, is this is an attack upon the god of the gaps. This idea that you need God to plug up the gaps in scientific knowledge to explain, for example, the water cycle, as to how it rains, or lightning or thunder or whatever. And this notion of a god of the gaps is a caricature that I don’t think any sophisticated contemporary theist believes in. As I emphasized in my opening statement here at Brisbane, the relations between science and theology today are much more nuanced than this naive god of the gaps approach. So excluding the god of the gaps does absolutely nothing to show that science has somehow buried God or removed the relevance of theology to science.

Kevin Harris: We need to go on record right here, Bill, and just say, the god of the gaps has been buried.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, well we can say that.

Kevin Harris: I mean, it really has. We’re not going to argue it; it’s been put to bed. And please, if anyone has this notion of god of the gaps, get rid of it because that’s not the argument.

Dr. Craig: That’s right.

Kevin Harris: Here’s another: if you ever did a google on “iron-aged peasants” it would all point to atheist websites. This is one of their favorite things to say, too. So Krauss’ contention here is that why should we believe iron-aged peasants, pre-scientific, pre-modern, on these important metaphysical claims?

Dr. Craig: Well, what’s funny about this is that he makes a self-contradictory claim here, Kevin. On the one hand he indicts God for waiting so long to reveal himself – all of these people are unsaved. And then he says, finally he reveals himself to these iron-age peasants rather than doing it during the age when video cameras exist. Well now that doesn't make sense. Did God wait too long or did he reveal himself too early? Should he have waited even longer until video cameras exist to reveal himself, or should he have revealed himself earlier to these pre-iron-age peasants? You can see the argument is heads I win, tails you lose. It’s just a self-contradictory argument. I deal with this question in my debate with Christopher Hitchens, by the way, and show that in fact the percentage of the world’s population, given the explosion in world population growth, the percentage of the world’s population that existed prior to Jesus is just tiny and growing increasingly insignificant compared to the number of the world’s population that has existed since Jesus because of the exponential growth.[7] So that the longer it goes on the more it turns out that God revealed himself very early in the history of the human race, and of course we believe that Christ’s death was efficacious in atoning for those who came before him. It’s not as though these people perished or were left without a revelation from God. He had revealed himself in nature and conscience to them. And he cared for them, too, in the atonement of Christ. So this argument is not a very good one. I think, again, it is just posturing.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, as we wrap up today, I want to chase one quick thing, and that is: I am convinced and becoming more convinced all the time that video evidence is increasingly becoming very faulty and not reliable.[8] I’m glad God revealed himself in an oral culture when things were carefully written down and remembered. Video evidence today is becoming quite unconvincing. There’s too much software that can be faked – is that a UFO?

Dr. Craig: Isn’t that interesting?

Kevin Harris: You can make something look very real. Now if you were to get a hold of some video from like the seventies or eighties and it showed something – well, no, you can’t even do that because you can still get a hold of that and then doctor it.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, I mean, can you imagine in a hundred years what people will say about the video evidence: “Why do you have this primitive video evidence that was no good?” I mean, it’s a conceit of modernity that thinks that our video evidence is so great compared to the testimonial evidence of the ancients.

Kevin Harris: Krauss’ next point here in his opening is that Jesus is not any different than any other gods or other fictional heroes, for that matter. And we’ll pick that up next time on Reasonable Faith[9]



[1] 5:02

[2] 9:59

[3] Note that the podcast that Dr. Krauss attacked and Dr. Craig admits had a mistake in it is no longer available; it was taken down soon after it was originally posted (and prior to the Brisbane event) because Dr. Craig realized the error that Dr. Krauss is pointing out. Dr. Craig later posted a statement on Facebook after this event explaining what happened – you can read his statement here: https://www.facebook.com/reasonablefaithorg/posts/10151653014893229 . A revised podcast without error is found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/The-Unbelievers-Movie-Part-11 (accessed December 15, 2013).

[4] Dr. Craig provides further details on the missing parts of this private email from Dr. Vilenkin to Dr. Krauss, as well as details from further communication Dr. Craig himself had with Dr. Vilenkin in Q&A #336 titled “’Honesty, Transparency, Full Disclosure’ and the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem.” See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem (accessed December 15, 2013).

[5] 15:13

[6] 20:00

[7] This is also discussed in the October 31, 2008 Reasonable Faith podcast titled “Where Was God?” See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/where-was-god (accessed December 15, 2013).

[8] 25:02

[9] Total Running Time: 26:18 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)