Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Two Debates

There have been two very recent debates between high-profile Christians and scientifically-minded opponents.

I'm not that interested in the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye the Science Guy debate, as Ham's creationist views have no credibility whatsoever. It would be interesting to see what approach Bill took. Some reviews have been positive, others not so.

I'm much more interested in the William L. Craig vs. Sean Carroll debate. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be video available for it yet. [ETA: Video now available here.] WLC is infamous in atheist circles for "winning" most of his debates. ("Winning" is of course very subjective in informal debates like these, but when the folks on the opposing side think you won, you probably won.) Carroll is not only a cosmology expert, he is one of the most philosophically astute scientists I know of - he's light-years ahead of Lawrence Krauss or Jerry Coyne, in my opinion. So Carroll is probably the ideal opponent for WLC. Props to WLC for taking on Carroll on his home turf: cosmology. This was either very brave or very stupid of him.

Carroll's own views on the debate are here. (I don't see any comments on it on Craig's website yet.) I think it's not just atheistic bias to assume that, where they disagree on the cosmology, the cosmology expert is probably right.

One new thing I learned from Sean's comments: Some cosmologies have a Boltzmann Brain problem and others don't. That's something I'll have to learn more about.

Craig has employed modern cosmology extensively in the past, both in debates and in his published papers. I was glad to see that Sean brought up the big problem with this: some cosmological models have an infinite past. Others don't. None of these models is considered established physics. So cosmology tells us nothing (yet!) about whether the universe had a beginning or not.

I really like Sean's five responses to the fine tuning argument - especially his #2, which is basically the same as my Fine Tuning Argument for Naturalism. Craig apparently had no response to this point.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether these debates are a good idea or not, from the point of view of promoting science and rational thought, much of it focussed on whose resume will be enhanced and whose pockets will be filled. From the purely intellectual point of view, I'm all for them. It's true that debates are a poor format for getting to the truth, but they're a great format for exposing folks to ideas  they might not have encountered otherwise.


  1. Thanx for the links -- interesting debate. I must say, Craig is irritating -- odd that he is a favorite of so many. I read Carroll's self-eval, it was superb.

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  3. I'm requesting your comments about Feser's latest claims about physics.


  4. Thanks for the tip. I've been following this exchange with interest. So far Parsons's replies have been ... disappointing. I left a short comment there - but Feser doesn't usually respond to comments.

  5. Yes, thanks, I saw it.

    Have you seen Carroll vs. WLC? IMO it was not the epic smack down many naturalists are claiming, although Carroll did a better job than anyone else. I would have preferred they just sit on stage and talk.

    Back to Feser. So he quotes something by BR, then just takes that as Truth, and proceeds from there. I could not find anything resembling an argument. He makes similar moves in TLS: he provides a history of the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, and later on just assumes that those ideas are true and builds arguments from there. Feeble.

    I suppose at the heart of his claims here about physics will resolve into the issue of the underdetermination of physical theories, which to me seems an insurmountable alleged problem. But science is not about absolute truth anyway. Not sure why Feser and his cheerleaders think their methods are any better.

    Just started reading your book, after reading Carroll's Higgs book, which I could not understand.