In my interim time between moving and waiting for the fall quarter to begin I decided to transcribe another of my episodes. It didn’t take quite as long as last time because half of the transcript was done for me. The discussion with Luke is mostly copypasta from that blog post, with a few minor amendments.
My original blog post of this episode doesn’t mention too much about the background of the interview so I will give a bit now. Sometime in the Fall of 2010 Jeric mentioned some speakers he had lined up to come to CSU. One of these individuals was Luke Muehlhauser. “Luke who??” I asked. I obviously hadn’t heard of the guy. Jeric informed me that Luke ran the Common Sense Atheism blog/website, but it didn’t ring any bells. It might be interesting, I thought to myself. I was also preparing a freethinking podcast at the time so I asked Jeric “You think Luke would be down for an interview?” “I dunno. I’ll ask him,” Jeric said.
In my research for the interview I looked through his website and listened to his podcasts, and discovered that 1) I had been to Common Sense Atheism a few times looking for debates (it has a large archive of atheism debates), and 2) That this was an exceptionally bright and prolific individual. At the time I was reviewing his site he would post almost daily to the site, and it wasn’t some bullshit about his day or his cat. It was original content that obviously took time and effort to craft like book reviews, debate critiques, or essays on philosophy.
Anyways, upon meeting Luke I found him to be incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and as tall as me!! I actually never think about things like height unless I meet someone as tall or taller than myself. It’s surprisingly rare. He gave a great talk. It was a bit over my head at first, but after watching the whole thing about three times I can understand the ideas he presented.
I really found him to be an interesting cat and have been quietly following his career since then. He has scaled back significantly on Common Sense Atheism and his podcasts in order to write great articles on Less Wrong. He has also moved to Berkeley, CA to become a Research Fellow at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, where I imagine he is living quite a charmed life.
Jeric: How’s is going Seth?
Seth: Great! How’s it going Jeric?
Jeric: Not too bad, man. How’s your week been?
Seth: Uneventful. I’ve been studying carotenoids and High Performance Liquid Chromatography.
Jeric: Oooo! HPLC.
Seth: Yeah, it sounds fancy. I have yet to run a HPLC to be honest.
Jeric: Good luck. So what do we got this week?
Seth: This week we have a Mr. Luke Muehlhauser who runs the Common Sense Atheism blog. He came to CSU recently, and you and I caught up with him after his talk at Coopersmith’s Pub in downtown Fort Collins and we had a good time. Here is our interview with Luke Muehlhauser.
SETH: I’m speaking with my guest, Luke…
SETH: Muehlhauser. Wonderful. Is that German?
SETH: Right on.
LUKE: What’s Yoder there, buddy?
SETH: Yoder is Amish.
LUKE: Definitely is.
SETH: Or at least I’m told. So… you run a site called CommonSenseAtheism. It’s really a wonderful site, got a lot of content on it. Over 500 debates, some book reviews, your own essays and opinions and podcasts dealing with philosophy and morality, and I’m sure I’m leaving something out. How did you get the idea to do something like this?
LUKE: Well, I had recently gone through a deconversion from evangelical Christianity to atheism, so I wanted to explain to people why that had happened, and also I saw that a lot of the debate between believers and non-believers was not of the quality that I would like it to be. There was a lot of sniping or people who were not interested in how the arguments worked but just wanted to say that all of their arguments worked and none of the arguments from the other side had any force at all, and I wanted to take an approach that was more sympathetic to the worldviews of others that I disagreed with. So I thought there was a gap for me to fill in taking that kind of approach this debate between non-belief and belief.
SETH: On your website you say: “Right now the ethical theory that seems most plausible to me is desire utilitarianism (aka desirism), and the next most plausible is error theory.” For someone like me who’s not very philosophically literate, what do those terms mean, and why do you find them compelling?
LUKE: The easier one to explain is error theory. This is a theory that was propounded by J.L. Mackie, and today the leading proponent is Richard Joyce. It’s basically a two-step argument. The first step is that morality is essentially committed to something-or-other – like categorical imperatives or moral absolutism or this kind of thing. The second step is that that thing – that morality is essentially committed to – is false, so all of moral theory is in error. The way J.L. Mackie explained this is that it’s very much like the way most atheists think about God. The God concept is essentially committed to this being that’s omniscience or omnipotent or supernatural, and then we’re gonna say, “Well, there is no supernatural. So God talk is fundamentally in error.” So error theory is basically atheism about morality. It’s non-belief in morality – because there’s nothing that exists that fits that description. So that’s what error theory is. Desirism is a different account of morality that is much harder to explain in a short time. The only thing I can say about desirism very quickly is that it’s a theory that places moral condemnation and moral praise at the center of the moral theory. It says the only reasons for action that exist come from desires. It might be nice if there were such things as intrinsic values, but in fact there aren’t. It would be nice or make moral theory easier if there were such things as categorical imperatives but there just aren’t. It would make moral theory very simple if there were divine commands that could serve as reasons for action, but divine commands do not exist. A lot of the proposed reasons for action just don’t exist. So all we’ve got left is desires. My desire for coffee is a reason for me to drink a cup of coffee. That’s not a controversial type of reason for action. But in the end it’s the only one I know how to defend. It’s the only one I think exists. Unless somebody gives me better evidence for the others. So desirism is a moral theory built up explicitly and only from reasons for action that come from desires. This is drawing from a famous paper by Philippa Foot – she proposed that morality could be a system of hypothetical imperatives, which basically means reasons for action that come from desires. This was heretical, because most people think that if you’re going to talk about moral theory, you have to be talking about categorical imperatives or intrinsic value or something like that. But Philippa Foot thought that they were wrong about that, and that we could develop a robust moral theory solely by talking about reasons for action that come from our desires. So I’m following Philippa Foot in that. Interestingly, in her last book Philippa Foot recanted of her heresy and said “No, actually morality does have to come from categorical imperatives or something like that.” But there are a lot of people who stick by that original paper and think that we can develop a robust theory of morality from just reasons for action that come from desires. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to explain a moral theory that can make sense of moral practice and what we should and shouldn’t be doing with the only reasons for action that I know to exist, which are the reasons for action that come from desires.
SETH: You grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota?
LUKE: Lamebridge. Of 5,000 people. And one slow-ass train right through the middle of it.
SETH: You were the son of a pastor?
LUKE: I am the son of a pastor.
SETH: You attended Christian schools that taught creationism?
LUKE: That’s right.
SETH: Is it fair to say you were indoctrinated into the Christian faith?
SETH: I was also, like most people in America. I was indoctrinated into Methodism. I don’t know about you, but I hold some resentment towards my parents for doing that, and I give them a hard time about it sometimes. Do you hold resentment toward your parents?
LUKE: I don’t know whether I’m justified to hold resentment against them, but as a psychological fact I just don’t. I have a lot of regrets. I wish I hadn’t spent 20 years learning creationism. Because I suddenly had to catch up on a lot of science that I had not been taught. I was really ignorant of science at age 19. Things like that, I wish I would have avoided. On the other hand, being indoctrinated in that way may have made me more empathic towards believers, because I know what it’s like to experience God. I know what it’s like to be certain of your beliefs. I know what it’s like to live in a community of people where it’s affirmed over and over again. I think the reason I don’t hold any resentment toward my parents is because they are very good parents, and very loving. The new that I’m an atheist and I reject all the values they raised me with is very difficult for them, but they’re handling it with incredible maturity, and we still love each other, we still have an open relationship, we still have an enjoyable relationship, so I don’t hold any resentment toward them, I can’t – they’re too cool for that.
SETH: Do you think your life now would be any different if you had been raised more secular?
LUKE: It would be radically different. The most probable thing is that if I had been raised more secular, I wouldn’t care so much about these issues, and I wouldn’t be talking to you about them. I suspect that the reason I’m passionate about bringing the good news of naturalism to people is because I lived as a Christian for 20 years, and I understand what it’s like to live in that way, and I had this rather traumatic experience of coming to know the truth, and saw a lot of benefits to my life because of that. I don’t think I would be doing the things I do now if I had been raised a nonchalant secular person instead of being raised really dogmatically religious, and then having this crisis of faith and this really emotionally wrought experience of being ripped out of faith.
JERIC: I’d like to hear more about your deconversion…
LUKE: I was so in love with God, and so in love with Jesus. I really believed that God had rescued me from a tough time in my late teenage years where I was depressed for the awful fate of a tall white American male… very depressing. But God rescued me from that by showing me the beauty of his creation, and showing me that it was a gift from him to me. And this understanding of the world pulled me out of my depression and made a big difference in my life. So I was on fire for God, and I wanted nothing but to be like Jesus to the people of a lost and hurting world. The problem was that lots of different theologians and pastors had different ideas about who Jesus was. Did he have a social gospel? Was he really into metaphysics? Was he more focused on works or faith? Lots of debates. And I thought: “If I’m gonna be like Jesus, I have to figure out what Jesus was really like!” So I looked at the historical Jesus: what is it that we know about Jesus when we do rigorous historical inquiry? And I found a lot of stuff – even when reading evangelical Christian scholars – that we had never heard from the pulpit. Things that are well known to everyone who goes to seminary, including people like my father, but are not shared with the lay people in the church because it would be too threatening to them. Things like: Paul and Jesus preached very different messages and it turns out that what’s practiced as Christianity today has more in common with the message of Paul than it does with the message of Jesus. That was disturbing and shocking to me. I studied more about this, and getting a different perspective than I had received from the pulpit challenged my faith, and that led me into Christian apologetics because I wanted to bolster my faith and come up with “What’s the great arguments for why I should believe even though there’s all this disturbing data from Historical Jesus studies?” In the end, when I was comparing the apologetics of Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne to the very simple, no-nonsense of somebody like Dan Barker, the atheists just had a better argument. This was terrifying for me. I didn’t want it at all. I would pray to somehow magically take this stuff from my brain that I had learned, so that I wouldn’t remember it, and I could just go back to being in love with God and on fire for Jesus. But that didn’t happen, and I couldn’t unlearn what I had learned. That was very depressing, and then about a month later I discovered that billions of atheists had had plenty of meaning and purpose and morality for thousands of years without deities, and then I was like, “Oh! Actually this isn’t so bad.” And I’ve gotten a number of benefits from not believing in gods since then, so I want to share that with other people.
SETH: You seem to be quite a fan of the Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Why?
LUKE: Well, “quite a fan” is an interesting way to put it. I engage his work a lot for a couple of reasons. He’s got a Ph.D. related to the historical Jesus and a Ph.D. in analytic philosophy related to arguing for theism. So he’s supremely qualified and he published in academic journals. But he also does very good work popularizing these arguments for a lay audience. And because he’s written so much, and it’s easy to tell what his views and arguments are on things, he’s really easy to engage. And, people are very familiar with him, so if I can talk about why William Lane Craig’s arguments fail, I can reach a lot of people, whereas I’m not going to reach them if I explain why Peter van Inwagen’s arguments fail, because nobody has ever heard of him. So that’s one reason I engage William Lane Craig. The reason you might call me a “fan” even though I disagree with so much and think much of the way he thinks is really improper is because he does make a serious effort to engage the arguments in a way that a lot of atheists do not. Honestly, in a lot of debates with atheists, it’s William Lane Craig who is being more logical and more faithful to the arguments than the atheist opponent is. A lot of that just has to do with the fact that he’s better philosophically trained, so he thinks like a philosopher, but I really think that should put some atheists to shame. If they really think their’s is the rational position, they should be able to win on grounds of argument and evidence and logic, and when they don’t, it shows that we are probably just arguing from a psychological perspective: “We know we’re right, and he’s obviously wrong, and here are the reasons why, and I don’t really have to take the logic or the arguments seriously or study these issues.” I think that reveals that when we talk about searching after truth, we’re mostly not. It’s really hard to actually be someone who seeks after truth. I really feel like a seek after truth, but I think a lot of the time I’m not, and it just feels that way. That’s how I interpret the data from the psychological literature. I think the way the debate goes between theists and atheists reveals that psychology very crisply. So I admire the way that William Lane Craig uses logic and engages the arguments and I think he’s wrong, but I think he does a better job than most of the atheists he debates.
SETH: How does one “win” a debate?
LUKE: A lot of it has to do with presentation and confidence and the way that you rephrase at the end of every section of the debate why you’re ahead. William Lane Craig does that very well. But another way that William Lane Craig wins a debate is not just in the presentation but that he literally gives better arguments. And it’s not because the theistic arguments are right, it’s because the people he’s debating are not very familiar with the arguments at all. So for example, the atheist will give the problem of evil, and William Lane Craig will give skeptical theism or the free will defense, and the atheist will misinterpret these and give a response that is totally irrelevant, which is very frustrating because this is Problem of Evil 101 stuff, folks. If you’re going to be debating these issues… this is what you read on the Wikipedia page. You should be expecting skeptical theism and free will defense. This is really easy stuff. It’s like Craig has the first six moves of the chess game memorized, and the atheist has the first one, and then after that they’re confused or don’t know how to respond. So in many cases, William Lane Craig wins the debate that way – by giving better arguments, and by not getting good responses from the atheist, who is unfamiliar with the arguments.
SETH: I’ve seen two debates. One was with Hitchens at BIOLA. Another was with Bart Ehrman… I remember most vividly the one with Hitchens. He comes out. He has five arguments. They’re really good from a theistic perspective. And then he just keeps repeating those arguments, and he doesn’t address anything that Hitchens says. And then the last time he’s up, he proselytizes, and drops the arguments altogether, and says “Forget the debate, guys, what really matters is your relationship with Jesus.” And that seems to me like a Hail Mary. And he does it with Ehrman, too. The last time he speaks, he’ll drop his arguments and proselytize and go for what I think is the Hail Mary. Is that really good debating technique?
LUKE: I would challenge you to rewatch those debates and watch for this: What happens in the Hitchens debate is that at the opening for each of his speeches in the debate, William Lane Craig quotes Hitchens’ arguments almost verbatim, and then gives a response for why they don’t work or why they aren’t relevant to the case. This was, in my interpretation, so devastating that Hitchens actually ceded the final section of his debate time and didn’t use it. So Craig had nothing left to respond to, so he had plenty of time to proselytize. A similar thing happened in the Ehrman case. The highlight of that debate was when Ehrman gave Hume’s basic argument against the idea that we could have historical evidence for the occurrence of a miracle. Most of the literature in the last 20 years on Hume’s argument has focused on a mathematical tool called Bayes’ Theorem. Ehrman was unaware of this, apparently, because Craig pointed it out and correctly showed that Hume’s original formulation of the problem could potentially be overcome by Bayes’ Theorem. Ehrman had no idea what Craig was talking about, and obviously hadn’t read anything on Hume since, probably, Hume, and was shown to be not up on the arguments. Again, in that debate with Ehrman, Craig repeated Ehrman’s arguments at the beginning of each of his speeches and gave a rebuttal to them, and again by the end of the debate was so far ahead that he had time to stand there and proselytize. That’s how I saw it. Listeners can go to those two debates and see which way they interpret it.
SETH: Do you think debates really matter? By that I mean do you think they change people’s opinions?
LUKE: I think they do. Especially debates on college campuses. College is when our minds and attitudes are open to exploring new things. Do we want to be like our parents? Do we want to think differently? Do we want to think like that peer group? Do we want to think like this peer group? When you’re presented with new ideas from smart and charismatic people, I think that can have a big effect. I doubt people convert on the spot, but I think a lot of seeds are planted. I know from a couple of people who do debates that they get many letters later – sometimes years later – saying, “I remember the debate you had with Eddie Tabash, and it really had an impact on my thinking.” So apparently they do have a big effect, especially when they happen at college campuses when our minds are open to change.
SETH: In recent years, there’s been the rise of the New Atheism. I’ve read statistics that a few years ago the non-religious portion of the United States was around 8%, and now it’s around 16%. To me, as an atheist, that’s heartening. But at the same time, if I zoom out and look at the big picture… since the beginning of recorded history there has been dissent from religion, dating back to Epicurus?
LUKE: Sure, much earlier. Democritus and many figures in ancient India. Ancient India was largely atheistic.
SETH: Oh really? Wow! And then of course Darwin comes along with evolution in the 1800s. Which would seem to be the nail in the fucking coffin of any religion. But still it persists, and thrives! Why do you think that is? I’m just curious.
LUKE: There’s a lot of interesting work going on right now about why it is that we are predisposed to religious thinking. I don’t know which theory is correct. One theory is that it’s an evolutionary biproduct. One theory is that it’s actually evolutionarily adaptive. One theory is that is develops in culture based on other types of things that are adaptive, for example what Michael Shermer calls our hyperactive agency detectors, where we just assume everything is an agent instead of a natural cause because that’s a better mistake to make. If I’m lying down sleeping and I hear a stick break in the woods, I’m way better off if I make the mistake of thinking it’s an agent – like a tiger – than I am in making the mistake thinking it’s nothing, and then the tiger eats me. Assuming everything to be agency is better for your survival. Maybe religion is a biproduct of that. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we dream, and it seems like dead ancestors are visiting us in some way, but not in their physical body, but we definitely experienced them last night in some way. Maybe it’s an extension of that. It’s hard to say, there are many interesting theories out there, I’m not sure which one is going to be correct. But there do seem to be many things about humanity that pulls us to religion. But luckily, we now have very good data that it’s not essential to the human condition. We can overcome religion and live without religion and be very happy. This is especially evidenced in Northern Europe, where they don’t believe in gods or religion, but they have some of the most healthy democracies in the world there, with excellent health care and human welfare and security and prosperity, and they do it all without deities.
SETH: You sparked a small online controversy with one of your blog posts over sexy scientists.
LUKE: Well I published a fun little post of some female scientists to remind people that females are in science, and they were ones that I also happen to think are sexually attractive – a list of 15 sexy scientists and then the last one was P.Z. Myers as a joke. And I was immediately attacked by a huge portion of the atheist blogosphere, saying I’m objectifying women, and this is harmful to women. It wasn’t something I’d really thought about that much, so I was interested to see if it was the case that, “Well, maybe they’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t be making posts like that. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it much.” So it seemed plausible to me that I could be wrong. So I went to the different blogs where I was being criticized, and asked for the arguments – the reasons why posting that list was so harmful. A lot of the people said explicitly that they didn’t care what the arguments were, they just know that they know that they know that it’s wrong. That was disappointing. Especially from supposedly rational, skeptical, atheists. A lot of the other arguments were just really bad, so I decided to seek out arguments from a professional philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, who writes on objectification. I explained why I didn’t think her argument was any good, either. Then I found another article that did convince me there might be something wrong with the post, and then I apologized, but that really didn’t make anybody happy; everyone was still pissed at me.
SETH: The controversy to me just seemed absurd. That’s me. Like, one of the arguments was that if you call a female sexy, that shows a presumption of sexual availability…? Which is absurd.
LUKE: Another one that was weird was that people said that when I was calling women I was sexy I was “exercising male privilege.” As if women do not have the ability to call men sexy back? I don’t know. That confused me.
SETH: Another one I heard is that if you call someone sexy, that presupposes that that is their only value. I mean, I call my wife sexy all the time, but that doesn’t mean the only reason…
LUKE: It’s a complete non-sequitur. Yeah, it makes no sense.
SETH: Maybe the most compelling argument against your blog post was about consent. You posted their pictures and called them sexy without their consent. Which is… reasonable. However, if you’re talking about pictures without consent, then every journalistic enterprise should be shut down.
LUKE: A lot of them, especially on the internet. These were photos that were already available on other websites. It wasn’t photos that they didn’t want people to see, apparently. But yeah, that was more persuasive to me than the other reasons that were given.
SETH: You run a blog, produce podcasts, speaking engagements, a day job. Where do you get the time and energy to do this?
LUKE: What I do seems impressive to some people but is way, way easier than, for example, trying to be a husband and a father and go to school and work a job as well. I don’t think I’m super-productive. I think it mostly helps that I am not a father or a husband. But my other response is one that P.Z. Myers gives when he’s asked how he produces so much content, which is: “Well, how can other people waste so much freaking time?”
SETH: Reddit.com. That’s how I do it. What’s next for you? Do you have any other irons in the fire?
LUKE: I do. I’ve been working on a website about naturalism as a worldview with some friends of mine. I’m really excited about it.
Atheism is a narrow topic. I’m glad I chose the blog title ‘Common Sense Atheism’ because I rode the wave of interest in that term – atheism – that came with the bestselling books from the New Atheists, but I don’t really care all that much about non-belief in gods. That’s an empty thing to care about. What I really care about is the positive worldview naturalism – this way of looking at the world as something that we can discover best by means of science. Science happens to be the thing that works best for figuring out how the world works. What happens when we take that seemingly very obvious fact and apply to the way we try to get truth about morality, the way we try to get truth about meaning and purpose, how we answer questions about epistemology in general or reasons or politics. What happens when you take science seriously, and apply it to your whole worldview? I think a lot of really good things fall out of that, and it’s already the dominant perspective movement in analytic philosophy in the West. So I just want to translate all that for people because I think it’s useful to people. Much of the website is about scientific self help! There’s lots of good scientific research about how we can achieve our dreams, achieve our goals, and it’s almost never mentioned in the popular books, because those are written to sell, not to help. That’s a practical benefit you get if you take science seriously. Other benefits are too numerous to name. You won’t be withholding medicine from your child because you have an unscientific belief about vaccines creating autism or something like that. There’s many benefits when you take science seriously.
SETH: Luke Muehlhauser, thank you for speaking with me today.
LUKE: Been a pleasure, Seth.
Jeric: Well that was great Seth. That was a really good interview.
Seth: Thank you so much. So today… Well what we’re gonna do today is… Luke challenged us and our listeners to re-watch the whole Hitchens vs. Craig debate. I did. I watched that a couple of times, and I wanted to say first of I know I mentioned in the interview that Craig has five really good, solid arguments. I wanna take that back. I want to say he has maybe one—MAYBE—maybe one decent argument for the existence of God. And so we are going to kinda go over that whole debate, so if you’re not familiar with it you might just want to turn this off right now.
Jeric: No, but if you want to find out about Craig’s debates. He always has these five points that he pretty much regurgitates for the past, what, ten or fifteen years? Ever debate he goes to he has his five major talking points that he always presents in the same way. So this is a good introduction. And a lot of these are ones you’ll hear a lot of theists make, but by no means are we gonna sit here for four hours and go through every little point, every little detail because you can find stuff on the internet or you can find people who are much better authorities on this; people who are really big into philosophy that can probably break it down and do a lot better. This is going to be our take on it and what we think… Going over it superficially, but not, y’know, not really in a lot of detail.
Seth: Yeah, I don’t have the bandwidth to—
Jeric: I don’t have the patience.
Seth: —to give an exhaustive kind of criticism of the whole debate. But we are joined today by my good friend Mr. Tony G who we—Right before starting this podcast, right before recording it he watched this debate for the first time. So Tony, will you introduce yourself?
Tony: Yeah, hey guys this is Tony G. I just watched this debate and I found it very interesting. Just a little background: I was raised 18 years Irish Catholic from my parents, and once I got to college it just—it didn’t really stick as well as my parents had hoped and so I’ve been just kinda going on my own as of late. Right now I would have to say that I’m more of a pantheist than anything. Thank you Seth. But, um, y’know but I’m not really devout in any particular area so I really don’t mind pointing out the differences and, y’know, the strengths and weaknesses of both of these great, great minds that debated tonight because they both had some really great ideas.
Seth: So Tony, what did you… What was your impression of the debate? I don’t think you were very familiar with Christopher Hitchens or William Lane Craig. So what was your overall impression of the debate?
Tony: Yeah so I was definitely not very familiar with either of them. As a general overview I think that they both dodged the question quite a bit. The big question, especially on the movie, is “Does God exist?” Throughout the debate my general impression was that they both tried to dodge actually giving a real answer to the question and instead gave more reasons why the other person was wrong.
Seth: Do you think there was a clear “winner”—quote, unquote—of the debate?
Tony: As far as ideas I don’t think there was a clear winner. I’d have to say that Craig did a little bit of a better job of appealing to what Hitchens had put forth, and really focusing on the topics that he had argued and refuting those as well as the topics that he had attacked with and defending those on his own. Hitchens didn’t really do as well of a job. Hitchens, in my opinion, liked to assert new ideas each time he got up to the stand.
Seth: Both of them have a very different style when it comes to debates, ‘cuz Craig is obviously very methodical. He even goes to the point where he will number his arguments, and then when he gets back up to the stump for a rebuttal he brings his legal pad with him and he goes down the list of the things he wrote down that he wants to refute. Whereas Hitchens, seems to me, will go up to the stump and just riff. And he’ll just talk and pontificate about whatever the hell pops in his head. Y’know it’s a very different style and maybe Craig is more skilled in the formal debating technique. Or at least he’s more adherent or respectful of the formal debating technique. I think Hitchens makes perfect sense in everything he says, but a lot of times he’s not directly addressing a point that Craig has addressed.
Jeric: I don’t think anybody here is like a philosophy buff or anything like that. I’m not a philosopher, and I think—I don’t think philosophy is the best way to get to a knowledge. Call it bias, because I’m a scientist, but I think the scientific method is much better than this kind of philosophical mental masturbation.
Seth: Why don’t you queue it up?
William Lane Craig: Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God, but no one’s ever been able to come up with a successful argument. The question of why anything at all exists is the most profound question of philosophy. Typically atheists have answered this question by saying that the universe is eternal and uncaused, but there are good reasons to think that the universe began to exist. Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past seems absurd. Mathematicians realize that an actual infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example: What is infinity minus infinity? […] The universe must have begun to exist. There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being. This being must be an uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unfathomable power. Moreover, it must be personal as well.
Seth: Okay Tone, so what you just heard was… It’s kind of a quasi famous argument called the Kalam cosmological argument. What did you think of this argument?
Tony: If you’re trying to think logically about it and you’re trying to explain exactly what happened, if there was nothing to begin with then some abstract being would have to create something in order to start something. Maybe the flaw in this logic is that there always has to be something that creates the next thing, so what creates the first creator?
Jeric: That’s one of the big problems that I have with pretty much all of his five arguments is that you have to accept the premises of his argument to follow him down the rabbit hole. For him to talk about the origin of the universe—nobody knows the origins of the universe. Any scientist will say we don’t know. I don’t know why that’s such a hard thing for theism to say is “We don’t know.” If anybody claims that they do know I can tell you right now they’re fucking lying to you because nobody knows.
Seth: He asks “Why is there something instead of nothing?” I think that presupposes that there should be nothing. Right? Like my kneejerk—My kneejerk reaction to that would be, well, okay how do you know that the universe didn’t always exist? Right? Or there are theories of this oscillating universe, that it kind of expands, y’know and then eventually will contract into—
Jeric: There’s multiverses, there’s budding universes, yeah all sorts of stuff. So I mean there’s all sorts of theories.
Seth: And so… Why couldn’t the universe, in some form or another, have always existed? And then his rebuttal to that would be “Well mathematicians claim that there are no—There’s no such thing as an actual infinite” and that’s how he kind of gets out of that. First of all he doesn’t name any mathematician; he just says “Mathematicians say…”
Jeric: “Nine out of ten doctors…”
Seth: Yeah. “…actual infinites don’t exist. And we can prove this by infinity minus infinity equals what? You don’t know! So therefore infinites don’t exist.”
Jeric: Well that was no infinite, ‘cuz I mean if he’s like… What was it? Infinite, uh… Infinites lead to a contradiction, so I guess that means that God is not infinite, like he hasn’t always been around, because if God is infinite doesn’t that mean that God is a contradiction?
Seth: Yeah. He invokes a timeless, ageless, supernatural, all-powerful being that’s somehow immune to the actual infinites.
Jeric: Yeah. To this, y’know… It works for everything else, except for the thing I’m positing the thing it doesn’t go for.
Seth: And then at the end of the argument he says “It must be a personal being.” That seems like a non-sequitur to me. Personal? How do you get personal?
Jeric: Yeah, he kinda put that there at the ass-end.
Seth: He said it must be a transcendent—which, I don’t even know what he means by transcendent, but it obviously means immune to any kind of scientific logic.
Jeric: I know whenever he started also, one of the first things he said was, which really just like, I just had to squint my eyes and say “what the fuck?”—but he says there’s no good arguments that atheism is true, which is just kind of a misunderstanding of the whole point where it’s, like, y’know… It’s up to you. You have the burden of proof. It’s up to you to convince the atheist or the aunicornist why unicorns or God exists.
Seth: It’s kind of sinister on the part of Craig, because I think he knows—I’m almost certain he knows what atheism means.
Jeric: I’m sure he knows. I’m sure somebody mentioned it to him or he Googled it once in a while.
Seth: He’s got two doctorates. He’s not—
Jeric: Well are they doctorates, like uh…
Seth: One’s a doctorate in theology and one’s a doctorate in philosophy.
Jeric: Okay. So he’s got a doctorate in bullshit is what you’re saying. A doctorate squared, I guess.
Seth: He studies this. This is his bread and butter. This is how he makes a living; this right here. What we’re doing, what we’re watching—This is what he does, and this is what he does best. And then he constantly will misconstrue and misrepresent and give a little parody, put out a straw man of whatever the atheism argument is. And then Hitchens—He’ll say something, y’know, like “We have a terminological problem here: Craig obviously does not know what the atheism stance is.” And then he’ll misrepresent it again in his second time up at the stump. Hitchens will come back and say like look, no! This isn’t what atheism means. I don’t have to prove awitchism. I don’t have to prove atoothfairyism. I don’t have to prove aSataClausism. All I have to do is say ‘I’m not convinced by the people that believe.’” And in the cross-examination you’ll notice that Craig will say “So apparently atheism means some sort of a–theism?” He plays dumb. Yes that’s what it means, and you know that’s what it means. You’re unfortunately trying to misinform your flock.
Jeric: Your flock or just the people that are watching; fence-sitters or anything like that.
Tony: The reason why later we see that he is trying to play dumb about atheism is that he’s trying to put Hitchens on a certain belief. Because Hitchens will not commit to a certain belief I think that’s where Hitchens has a little bit of an advantage, because Hitchens doesn’t have to prove anything. All he has to say is that your reasons for God existing are wrong.
Seth: Are we done with KCA? You wanna go on to fine-tuning?
Craig: The initial conditions of the Big Bang were fine tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. […] Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the balance would be destroyed and life would not exist. To give just one example: The atomic weak force, if it were altered by as little as one part out of 10 to the 100th power would not have permitted a life-permitting universe. […] Now it can’t be due to physical necessity because the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. In fact string theory predicts that there are around 10 to the 500th power different possible universes consistent with nature’s laws. […]
Jeric: Here we go.
Seth: So we just heard the fine tuning argument, which is—
Jeric: I think I need some more whiskey for this, ‘cuz this is getting… The bullshit is getting knee-deep in this room.
Seth: In my opinion the Kalam cosmological argument, his first major point, was probably his best and most original point.
Jeric: His flagship.
Seth: Yeah. From now on it kinda steadily devolves, if you will. The fine-tuning argument, in short, is: There are constants in the physical world, in the natural world, that exist so as to permit life. Therefore God exists.
Jeric: Therefore God exists.
Seth: Common objections: It could very well be that these constants—there’s no… It’s not like they have a choice. These constants are constants; they couldn’t be any other way. Somehow he dismisses that by saying “these physical quantities are independent of nature” and he uses string theory as somehow a proof of the fact that these constants are not due to necessity.
Jeric: Glossing over string theory in his String Theory for Idiots book or whatever. String Theory for Dummies.
Seth: Now does anyone buy this?
Jeric: Like he said, okay if everything’s fine-tuned so far… Okay let’s start with Earth: only like—what is it?—seven percent or point seven percent of Earth is actually suitable for life. If you take the whole entire planet: the core, the mantle, all the shit like that. Seven percent, just the surface right there is the only place you find life.
Seth: If you want to take the whole universe—
Jeric: And then you extrapolate that to the whole universe where we haven’t found anything else yet? So it doesn’t seem like the universe is all that fine-tuned for life.
Seth: As far as we know life, biology, biological organisms, in terms of the mass of atoms that are available in the universe is one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent of one percent…
Jeric: How many percents is that?
Seth: Ad infinitum maybe of what exists in the universe. So maybe this whole universe was not fine-tuned just for this incredibly small iota of—
Jeric: Desert sand people to come up with a book that outlaws masturbation?
Seth: Exactly. Just so someone in Bronze Age Palestine could be tortured to death.
Jeric: Exactly. Yeah.
Seth: What did you think of the fine-tuning Tones?
Tony G: You know kind of like I talked about at the beginning with everybody kind of dodging the bullet he doesn’t outline the solid proof for it being a god, he more outlines the proof against it being anything else. That’s one of the big things that I’ve picked up on on this the fine-tuning element. And you know you guys were talking about there’s a very very low percentage of life that exists on Earth and there’s even a lower percentage of life that exists in this universe, and I think that he’s also trying to use that to his advantage because he’s saying, y’know, look it is fine-tuned because we are the only place in this universe that has life versus, y’know, using the string theory or something like that where several other universes can survive. There might not be any life, thus it’s a miracle—which he preaches I know again in the future in this video—and so maybe he’s trying to use that as an advantage as more of like a miracle of God.
Jeric: I was gonna say I don’t think there’s a low—I think there is a percentage that there is gonna be life out there, it’s just that we haven’t discovered it. Even at that if the universe was so finely-tuned for life I would think it would be much more hospitable and you would see it teeming everywhere.
Tony: I can definitely see that, especially with the potency of his argument of fine-tuning. I would definitely see that there would be a bigger percentage than the very low percentage now. Definitely.
Seth: And then Hitchens will go… Hitchens later says yes, the universe does have certain constants. There are certain laws that the universe abides by, but of course the religious will claim that there are miracles which suspend—just totally fly in the face of all these constants—like resurrections in the case of Christianity. Or if you want to talk about, um…
Jeric: Flying to heaven on a winged horse that’s on fire.
Seth: Something like that.
Tony: Umm… It’s name is Pegasus.
Jeric: No, that was Muhammad.
Seth: Y’know these laws can be suspended in any number of ways, in any number of circumstances just for your own benefit which is, he says, “having it both ways in the most promiscuous manner,” which I have to agree with.
Jeric: Did he really say that? Having it both ways in the most promiscuous manner?
Seth: Quite a wordsmith.
Jeric: Yeah, exactly.
Seth: Do we wanna move on to the moral? Or do we have anything more to say about fine-tuning?
Jeric: No, other than it’s just BS loaded on BS.
Craig: If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. […] I just don’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality which has emerged among these imperfectly evolved primates we call Homo sapiens is objective, and here Mr. Hitchens seems to agree with me. […] On the atheistic view there’s nothing really wrong with raping someone. But the problem is that objective values do exist and deep down we all know it. […] Love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. But then it follows logically and that God exists.
Jeric: So… The moral argument.
Seth: The moral argument.
Jeric: This is the classic case of you have to accept his premises for the rest of the shit to flow downhill.
Seth: Tony, do you have anything to say before we delve into this?
Tony: Well first of all it’s a good argument. Y’know he says that without the presence of a good deity, without the presence of a really good influence—He’s saying that morality couldn’t be possible. But you can look past that and say that maybe because the thought or the presence of a deity such as God could possibly influence the outcome, but not positively but possibly negatively because there’s always that big message that if you are a sinner and you don’t refute your sins you will go to hell.
Seth: Yeah, I don’t think he even goes into the whole fire and brimstone and hell and everything because he doesn’t… He probably doesn’t want to put that message out there to people who might be on the fence. The moral argument is pretty popular among Christian apologists. There’s usually one of two ways they go, and it’s either we, as humans, don’t know… [cell phone buzz]. Tell her we’re doing a fucking podcast! Okay, so there’s two ways you can go with the moral argument. One is we as humans don’t know what is right and what is wrong and we need to be told (via the Bible, usually) how to behave. We need these Ten Commandments. We need people who communicate with God to tell us what is good and what is bad because wouldn’t otherwise know. There’s another way you can go which is we know what is right and we know what is wrong, and we know that because God has written that on our hearts. I think Craig is going for the latter. I think that’s what Craig is saying. If he wants to go down that route then there’s the Euthyphro dilemma. I’m not a philosophy guy. I’ve only taken Philosophy 101, but this is some Philosophy 101 shit right here. The Euthyphro dilemma is… fuck. I’m drunk.
Tony: Yea booze!
Jeric: Is what God says moral because God says it, or is it moral with or without God? Basically. Which makes sense, but it seemed like for most of this third argument he was kind of agreeing—One he agreed that humans were evolved, these imperfectly evolved primates. But then he was also agreeing that there was no objective morality. I agree also that there’s no objective morality, y’know, really at all because any kind of socially evolved animal is going to have these kind of evolutionary ingrained behaviors. Whether it’s… Any kind of social animal, whatever it is.
Seth: I think at its heart this is more of a emotional argument, ‘cuz there’s really no proof here.
Tony: I think that’s a very, very strong argument, especially on his part. But it’s also a really big, almost contradictory argument, because a lot of people are doing it on the basis of a promise of reward. When you have that promise of reward, y’know, if anybody says they’ll give you a certain something for doing some certain act then of course if the reward is great enough you’re gonna do that act, regardless of what it is.
Tony: Economics! 101 right there. Y’know, it’s not always about the love of God, sometimes it’s about the fear of god and the fear of the power that he can potentially bestow upon you. And in this argument Craig makes—
Jeric: If you accept the premises.
Tony: I agree. In this argument when Craig argues it, it’s very heavily in the favor of God versus in the fear of God. This is one of the points where I think Hitchens doesn’t really focus—which I think he should in his following arguments—but with Craig’s argument he really focuses on the good of God and the happiness, the power that he can bestow upon you versus the fear and the devastation that he can really bring into your life by doing wrong.
Jeric: Personally, I don’t think it teaches you morality. I don’t think being a Christian or reading the bible or anything like that teaches you morality. What it teaches you is obedience to the word of God, to the Ten Commandments, however you want to see it teaches you obedience. Obedience and morality aren’t the same thing. So for him to say that without God there is no morality, well…
Seth: Well fuck you!!
Jeric: Exactly! You can take that bible and fold it ‘til it’s all corners and shove it up your ass!
Tony: Without God I’d suck your dick and I wouldn’t feel bad!
Seth: That’s going in the podcast.
Tony: Fuck that!
Seth: Before we move on I want to say Craig says, quote, atheists say there’s nothing really wrong with rape, which I think is extremely risky on his part considering if you want to look at the Old Testament there are at least one if not multiple occasions where God will say take these women, take these children, do with them what you will.
Jeric: It seems like the Old Testament is the one that doesn’t have a problem with rape.
Seth: But anyways, moving on.
Craig: Historians have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority. […] If Jesus did rise from the dead than it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus evidence for the existence of God. [..] Fact number one: On the Sunday after His crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of His women followers. Fact number two: On separate occasions different individuals in groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death. These appearances were witnessed not only by believers but also by unbelievers and even enemies. Fact number three: […] Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising Messiah. […] The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts. And therefore it seems to me the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be.
Jeric: So the resurrection, huh? This is what he wants to go with? Especially when he started at the fucking very beginning saying we’re not gonna discuss biblical inerrancy. Hmm… interesting! Jackass.
Seth: And yet here are the facts.
Jeric: Yeah his facts! His quote unquote—His little air quote facts.
Seth: The biggest problem I have with this is that the meat and potatoes of this one argument rests on people who presumably would not believe that Jesus was the son of God claim that Jesus is the son of God. So he’s saying that he knows the motives—which is extremely, extremely tenuous—he knows the motives of people over two thousand years ago. He knows what they would be inclined to believe, and not only that but he knows that what they end up believing is a fact and… It just hurts my brain. Anyone else want to give their thoughts?
Jeric: Some of this stuff it doesn’t really follow how he—his thought process through this. It’s just kind of—he’s paying lip service to everybody else that’s from the church that’s there showing up, because these certainly don’t seem as well supported as all his other arguments. It’s just like “There’s miracles!” and “There’s no naturalistic explanation. Therefore the Christian is amply justified in believing that God exists.” And it’s just like, well, how—where the fuck did you come up with that shit from?
Seth: Jesus dies. People saw Jesus alive after—
Jeric: They claim they saw Jesus alive.
Seth: But they were Jews so they must have been telling the truth.
Jeric: The Jews, though, don’t believe in resurrection. There’s no reason they would have believed that Jesus would have been resurrection, err, resurrected as the son of God except for the fact that he said he would have been resurrected as the son of God, so I don’t know where they got it from!
Seth: If a Christian says he saw Jesus alive after he died then whatever, but if Jews do it it must be a fact! So that’s his proof. You can believe it if you want, but… fuck. That’s all I gotta say.
Tony: Well, so as being the third party here I must admit that I am a little bit biased towards this. Lots of times the basis on a testimony of spoken word two thousand years ago, to me, just never seems as concrete as people want to believe it is.
Jeric: Even now! When is a verbal claim, a testament like that, considered as evidence? His fourth point is definitely the least substantial of all.
Tony: I would definitely say it’s been the weakest so far. Definitely.
Seth: Wait until we get to point number five. That’s the best, and by “best” I mean “worst.”
Jeric: Dammit. I can’t believe I’m out of Maker’s Mark.
Tony: Oh man. We’re out of beer and whiskey. This has taken a turn for the worse. Let’s get this over with!
Craig: Finally, number five, the immediate experience of God […] Philosophers call beliefs like these “properly basic beliefs.” […] Now, if this is right there’s a danger that arguments for God’s existence could actually distract your attention from God himself. If you’re sincerely seeking God then God will make his existence evident to you. We mustn’t so concentrate on the external arguments that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.
Jeric: So what do you think about this? The properly basic belief as, uh, as he said it’s not an argument, it’s just a claim.
Seth: That’s about all you can say with his last argument. It’s not an argument whatsoever.
Jeric: The argument from personal experience. The absolute weakest that there is. I mean there are mental hospitals full of people who think that they’re made of string or that they’re a glass of orange juice because they have properly basic beliefs just like he does!
Seth: Yeah and so here’s another example of why I think Craig is involved in a little bit of Orwellian doublespeak or doublethink. He says we must not concentrate on the arguments that we fail to hear God in our hearts. So he brings out, he trots out four arguments, and he’ll criticize Hitchens for not addressing each of these arguments. Then of course one of his, quote, arguments is forget these arguments and listen to your heart! What does your heart tell you? God will speak to you—
Jeric: If you listen!
Seth: —in his own way. He doesn’t tell you how or in what language.
Jeric: If you’re seeking! It’s kind of the blame the victim thing. If you’re not praying hard enough, if you’re not seeking hard enough it’s your own fucking fault for not finding God.
Seth: Properly basic?
Tony: In my own personal opinion I actually find that this argument is very, very strong but it only appeals to those who are believers. I think that’s why maybe he makes this argument because, y’know, he did mention the fact that he wants everybody to check their beliefs at the door, but you still can’t get away from the fact that he believes in what he believes in. So I think that this argument is very, very strong for already established believers of what he’s trying to say.
Seth: It’s targeted toward believers or maybe those who really, really want God to exist or really, really want to find God.
Tony: But I also find this argument unfortunately very weak, um, due to the point where he mentions—I can’t quite quote, but I can paraphrase—where he says, he basically tells people that God only exists if we want him to exist, if we let him into our hearts. To me that almost says that what if we let our hearts open to some other deity or to some other entity? Can that exist as well?
Seth: Like Shiva.
Tony: Like Shiva! Like Jesus, Allah, Buddha… possibly Tom Cruise! If we let our hearts open to these certain deities, especially Tom Cruise, does that make them actually exist? We’ve seen him in movies. Have we ever seen him in real life? We don’t know. But again, to me, it just seems almost like God won’t exist unless somebody spreads this rumor to you or somebody spreads this idea to you and you open your mind to it. But then again that’s where you get any other religion, But y’know when we look at like Mormonism or Scientology which are obviously mad-made religions—
Jeric: And we know their origins… as opposed to like Judaism or Christianity.
Tony: Yeah. We know their origins. It’s very different because here he is saying open your heart to what’s already there versus open your heart to what people say is there. And to me this is also a weak argument much like argument number four. Unfortunately, you know, I wish all five of his points really hammered it home just to really present his position. I’m not saying that I am in favor of his position specifically, but I just wish everything that he had had a little bit more background and evidence to it than it does. I fell like points number four and five really faltered a little bit, and it’s more based on the belief versus the proof that God exists. And like I said he does have a little bit of a disadvantage trying to prove that God exists.
Seth: The first time I watched this I kind of went away with the impression that Craig was firing on all cylinders. I was like this guy is good. He’s well prepared, he’s methodical, he knows his shit and he brings up some pretty good arguments. But that was kinda the first time—That was the first time I watched this and I—I think I watched it with Jeric and I think we were drinking. Okay his first point is decent. I have many problems with his Kalam, but it’s probably his best argument. And then the rest of his arguments, like the fine-tuning or the biblical inerrancy or the moral argument, they’re just—they’re recycled and warmed-over argument that I’ve heard a hundred times, except that unlike most Christian apologists he dresses them up. He presents them with a lot of confidence. He presents them with a lot of quotes from other people, even though they may be obscure and even though their methodologies for calculating whatever are unknown or dubious. If you don’t look at his arguments with a very, very critical lens I can easily see how you would be led down a path of yes God exists, yes Jesus is Lord, yes I need to accept him. Um, I could go on about Craig. I mean, there’s obviously a round two and a round three that I kind of almost desperately want to go into because I think there are some serious issues there. However, there’s obviously not enough time. So I guess in closing is there anything anyone wants to say?
Tony: Well in all truth the big bang theory presented by Craig actually really threw me off, because I’ve heard of the big bang theory plenty of times but only through the minds of scientists. I’ve never heard it through the minds of actual Christian believers as being a really big source or power of God. I’ve never heard of it like that before. I’ve heard a lot of big bang theories, and then I’ve also heard a lot of people who refute the big bang theory in favor of a god who created the universe. I never heard of this mix of the big bang being caused by God.
Seth: You wanna wrap up here? Well, uh, that’s our show for today. Thanks you Tony for coming in and being a part of this.
Tony: No, thank you guys. It was great. Check out Tony G and the Cure for Cancer on YouTube!
Seth: TG and the CC! Jin us next week where I think we’ll probably have Dr. Darrel Ray on the podcast. Visit our new, uh, blog page: leadersinfreethought.wordpress.com for, uh, all our news and stuff. Thanks for joining us. Goodbye.