bookmark_borderAtheist Ethicist on Evolution and Morality

The Atheist Ethicist has been writing a nice series on morality and evolutionary ethics. Posts (so far) include:

Check them out!

bookmark_borderCavin and Colombetti on the Resurrection of Jesus Part 2: The Failure of the Resurrection ‘Explanation’

What I want to do in this post is to summarize (and offer my own interpretation of) Cavin’s second main contention in his debate with Michael Licona on the Resurrection of Jesus:

CC2. The Resurrection Theory is a dismal failure as an explanation of the empty tomb and postmortem appearances of Jesus—being ad hoc and almost completely devoid of explanatory power and scope.

1. Explanatory Power

In order to properly assess CC2, it’s crucial that we first clarify what “explanation” means. In order to do that, let us begin by reviewing some basic concepts from Part 1 of this series. Let us divide the evidence relevant to the Resurrection into two categories. First, certain items of evidence function as “odd” facts that need to be explained.  Let us call these items the “evidence to be explained.” Second, other items of evidence are “background evidence,” which determine the prior probability of rival theories and partially determine how well those theories explain the evidence to be explained.

These two types of evidence have two probabilistic counterparts: (1) the prior probability of a hypothesis H and (2) the explanatory power of H. (1) is a measure of how likely H is to occur based on background information B alone, whether or not E is true. As for (2), this measures the ability of a hypothesis (combined with background evidence B) to predict (i.e., make probable) an item of evidence.

The key takeaway is that if H (combined with B) does not predict E more than not-H (~H), then H does not explain E.

2. Four Problems with the Resurrection Hypothesis

2.1. Licona’s Resurrection Hypothesis is a Circular Explanation

“H explains E” is a necessary condition for H to be an explanation of E. But what does it mean for H to explain E? As Jan Narveson writes, part of what it means to say that H explains E is that H helps us understand how or why H leads to E (or, at least, how or why H gives us more reason to expect E than ~H does).

Well, for one thing, an explanation has to explain. That is: the proposal, the hypothesis, put forward as doing the explaining has to be such that, once you understand the thing and you understand the phenomenon to be explained, you can see how, yes, one of those things would lead to one of these things being the way it is–and not some other way.

Let us define a circular explanation as follows.

H is a circular explanation of E if (1) H is explicitly defined as the hypothesis that E is true; and (2) if the explicit reference to E is removed from H, the remaining content in H does not help us understand how or why H leads to E (or, at least, how or why H gives us more reason to expect E than ~H does).

So the problem with circular explanations is that they are no explanations at all. They successfully predict that E is true (or more likely to be true) without helping us to understand how or why E is true (or more likely to be true).

Cavin & Colombetti (C&C) observe that, on Licona’s definition of the Resurrection hypothesis, the Resurrection hypothesis is a circular explanation for the resurrection and empty tomb. Consider Licona’s definition.

Following a supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause, Jesus appeared to a number of people, in individual and group settings and to friends and foes, in no less than an objective vision and perhaps within ordinary vision in his bodily raised corpse.[1]

The italicized words are the explicit references to the postmortem appearances. Licona’s hypothesis predicts the postmortem appearances only because he builds the appearances into his hypothesis. His hypothesis does not, however, explain how or why Jesus appeared to people after his death.

2.2. Non-Circular Versions of the Resurrection Hypothesis Lack Explanatory Scope and Explanatory Power

C&C’s second objection follows from their first. If we modify Licona’s hypotheses by removing the explicit references to the appearances, the remaining content isn’t very informative. The Resurrection hypothesis becomes the claim that there was

a supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause, [involving] Jesus [as a] bodily raised corpse.

The problem, of course, is that this modified Resurrection hypothesis no longer predicts the empty tomb and the appearances (or, at least, it no longer makes the appearances more probable than the hypothesis that Jesus was not resurrected does.)

2.3. The Resurrection Hypothesis is Ad Hoc

Let us begin by defining “revivification” as a generic term to encompass any transformation of a corpse into a living body of some kind. One kind of revivification is resuscitation, viz., the mere restoration of a corpse to its original premortem state. For example, the New Testament claims that Lazarus was resuscitated. Another kind of revivification is resurrection, viz., the transformation of the corpse into a living, powerful, incorruptible, and glorious body which can never again suffer illness, injury or death. The New Testament claims that Jesus was resurrected, not merely resuscitated (as was Lazarus).

Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that we know nothing about the New Testament, but, somehow and at the same time, we know that (a) Jesus was dead; (b) Jesus was buried in a tomb; and (c) Jesus was resurrected from the dead. We would not predict an empty tomb or postmortem appearances because the resurrection hypothesis, by itself, tells us nothing about the postmortem activities of Jesus. For example, it’s possible that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and stayed in the tomb, admiring his transformed body. Or, after the Resurrection, perhaps Jesus teleported to central America and appeared to people there so that he could be crucified again.

In order to rule out these and countless other scenarios, Resurrectionists must make “dubious assumptions about the postmortem activities of Jesus” (184). As C&C explain, these assumptions include “the Ascension, the ability to pass through solid matter and to appear and disappear at will, telepathy, clairvoyance, and the power to create ‘heavenly’ visions of glory” (185). The problem with these assumptions, however, is that they are not implied by either the modified Resurrection hypothesis or our existing (background) knowledge (184). This is what I take C&C to mean when they charge that the Resurrection hypothesis is ad hoc.

Cavin & Colombetti (C&C) provide a brilliant parable to illustrate this point.

Suppose Jones is found empty by Peter, John, and the two Marys. Later that morning, Jones is seen by the two Marys. Later that day, Jones is see at the club by his two employees. And three years later, people see Jones skydiving.

The hypothesis, “Jones woke up,” would not and does not predict the empty house; Jones’ appearance to the two Marys and his employees; or his skydiving. Jones’ waking up is, at best, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for his post-waking activities. What would predict the empty house is not the “wakening” hypothesis, but the “leaving” hypothesis: Jones left the house.  Along the same lines, the “wakening” hypothesis doesn’t predict any of Jones’ appearances; we need one or more other hypo
theses to explain them.

2.4. “Atoms or Schmatoms” Explanatory Dilemma

Again, consider the modified, non-circular version of Licona’s resurrection hypothesis. There was

a supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause, [involving] Jesus [as a] bodily raised corpse.

The “indeterminate nature” of the risen Jesus creates another explanatory problem for the Resurrection hypothesis: it turns the risen Jesus into an “X-Man.” But how can an indeterminate, an unknown “X,” explain any historical facts (194)? C&C argue that it can’t. In support, they present the “‘Atoms or Schmatoms’ Explanatory Dilemma.”

(1) If Jesus was revivified from the dead, his post-revivification body was either composed of atoms or schmatoms.

(2) If Jesus’s post-revivification body was composed of atoms, then Jesus was not resurrected.

I want to make two comments regarding this premise.

First, the resurrection body, by definition (I Cor. 15), is supposed to be imperishable (immortal, unable to age, get sick, be injured, etc.). A body composed of atoms would not have these properties, and, thus, for that reason, not be a resurrection body. (In contemporary physical chemistry, I think, each molecule is defined as composed of a certain number of atoms of a certain subset of the elements in a certain configuration, and element is, turn, defined as composed of X number of protons, neutrons, electrons, etc., and that each of these particles is defined as having a certain mass, charge, spin, half-life, etc.)

Second, a body made of atoms (even assuming we can "stretch" the meaning of the term "resurrection" to encompass it) would be at best negligibly likely to lead to the empty tomb and postmortem appearance stories of Jesus as we find them in the gospels. A Jesus made of atoms would require energy (food) to survive, move, etc.; would thus realize that he’s not immortal, etc.; would be unable to disappear from the tomb and reappear outside and to disappear in Emmaus and reappear in the Upper Room; would quickly realize that he could be injured; and, thus, injured and killed by old his enemies if he re-entered the city to go meet his disciples there, etc.

(3) If Jesus’ post-revivification body was composed of something else (“schmatoms”), then there is no way to make testable predictions about what the post-revivification Jesus would be or do.

(4) If there is no way to make testable predictions about what a Jesus composed of schmatoms would be or do, then a Jesus composed of schmatoms does not predict an empty tomb or postmortem appearances.

(5) If a Jesus composed of scmatoms does not predict an empty tomb or postmortem appearances, it cannot explain an empty tomb or postmortem appearances.

(6) Therefore, either the postmortem Jesus was not resurrected or the resurrection of the postmortem Jesus cannot explain the empty tomb or the postmortem appearances.

3. Conclusion

C&C conclude that the Resurrection Theory is a dismal failure as an explanation of the empty tomb and postmortem appearances of Jesus—being ad hoc and almost completely devoid of explanatory power and scope.

Notes

[1] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 582-83. Italics are mine.

bookmark_borderThe Perfect Goodness of God – Again (Part 2)

In my previous post on this topic, I used conditional derivation to try to prove that one statement entailed another statement, to show that ‘There is a person who is omniscient and perfectly free’ entails ‘There is a person who is perfectly good’.
But because I’m a bit unclear on how the logic of conditional statements relates to entailment, I’m not sure that conditional derivation can be used this way.
In any case, implication (the logical relationship in a true conditional statement) is similar to entailment in that both logical relationships have the characteristic of transitivity. Since I was basically using this feature of conditional statements, I can revise my reasoning to make use of the transitivity of entailment, rather than the transitivity of implication:
(PFO1*) ‘There is a person who is both perfectly free and omniscient’ entails the statement ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P knows that P is in C, P is in C, P knows that A is the morally best action for P in C, P knows everything that is entailed by the A being the morally best action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C’.
[a necessary truth based on the meaning of ‘omniscient’ and on the principle that ‘ought implies can’]
(PFO2*) ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P knows that P is in C, P is in C, P knows that A is the morally best action for P in C, P knows everything that is entailed by the A being the morally best action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C’ entails the statement ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P knows that P is in C, P is in C, P knows that A is the most rational action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.’
[a necessary truth based on the fact that ‘A is the morally best action for P in C’ entails ‘A is the most rational action for P in C’]
(PFO3*) ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P knows that P is in C, P is in C, P knows that A is the most rational action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.’
entails the statement ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P believes that P is in C, P is in C, P believes that A is the most rational action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.’
[a necessary truth based on the fact that ‘P knows that X is the case’ entails ‘P believes that X is the case’]
Therefore:
(PFO4*) ‘There is a person who is both perfectly free and omniscient’ entails the statement ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P believes that P is in C, P is in C, P believes that A is the most rational action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.’
[a deduction from (PFO1*), (PFO2*), and (PFO3*) based on the transitivity of entailment: A entails B; B entails C; C entails D; therefore: A entails D.]
(PFO5*) ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P is perfectly free, P believes that P is in C, P is in C, P believes that A is the most rational action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.’ entails the statement ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P will do A in C.’
[a necessary truth based on the meaning of ‘perfectly free person’ which entails being a person who always does what he/she believes to be the most rational action, when there is such an action that he/she is able to do]
Therefore:
(PFO6*) ‘There is a person who is both perfectly free and omniscient’ entails the statement ‘There is a person P who is so constituted that if P is in circumstance C and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P will do A in C.’
[ a deduction from (PFO4*) and (PFO5*) based on the transitivity of entailment: A entails B; B entails C; therefore: A entails C.]

bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig’s silly views on animal pain further debunked

This brand new video exposes in some detail the absurdity of William Lane Craig’s ongoing attempt to defend his silly, unscientific views regarding animal pain (his view is that animals other than higher primates are unaware they have it – which is a great comfort to animal lovers like himself).
 
This video responds to Craig’s response to the original video exposing the sheer ridiculousness of the argument he used against me in our debate:
 

 
Video is not by me, btw.
 
Here is my earlier post on this subject.

bookmark_borderThe Argument from Scale (AS) Revisited, Part 6

In Part 1 of this series, I critically reviewed Nicholas Everitt’s formulation of the argument from scale (AS). In Part 5, I critically reviewed John Loftus’s defense of AS on his blog. In this post, I want to review Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s formulation of AS in his (Loftus’s) book, Why I Became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments (Bloomington: Trafford, 2008). It’s important to note that in his book Loftus also defends a version of AS against evangelical Christianity; I will not evaluate that argument here.

Everitt’s Argument from Scale (AS)

Here is Everitt’s formulation:

(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e. one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.
(2) The world does not display a human scale.
(3) Therefore, there is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.[1]

Let us now turn to Loftus’s comments.

Commenting on (1), Loftus writes:

He’s [Everitt’s] asking us what we would expect to find before we had any scientific knowledge about the universe, given the fact that mankind is the pinnacle of creation in that universe. It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

What does Loftus mean by “pinnacle of creation”? It appears that he is using "that phrase as a substitute for Everitt’s expression “jewel of creation,” which Everitt defines as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe.[2]

Now what about (3)? Let’s look again at the second sentence in the above quotation:

It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

Like Everitt, Loftus is not claiming that the scale of the universe is a proof of the falsity of theism or even that it makes theism probably false. Rather, like Everitt, Loftus claims that the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism. So what I want to do is evaluate whether the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism, for the reasons given by Loftus.

Does Theism “Predict” That Humans are the Pinnacle of Creation?

Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation, we may treat the hypothesis that humans are the jewel of creation as an auxiliary hypothesis. Let us first define the “Jewel of creation” hypothesis (J) as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe. Then, according to the theorem of total probability,

Pr(E | T & B) = Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B) + Pr(~J | T) x Pr(E | ~J & T & B)

Now since the whole point of conjoining J with T is to try to increase the value of Pr(E | T & B), we may effectively ignore the second half of the right-hand side of that equation and focus on the first half: Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B). What reason is there to think Pr(J | T) is greater than Pr(~J | T)? In Part 2 (revised) of this series, I criticized Everitt’s three reasons for thinking that Pr(J | T) > Pr(~J | T). What reasons does Loftus give? As I read him, he provides three reasons of his own: (i) it confirms his expectations; (ii) the scale of the universe is wasteful; and (iii) there is no understandable reason why God would have created a universe with the scale that ours has. Let’s consider these in detail.

First Reason: Confirms Expectations

First, Loftus says that the argument confirms his expectations.

There is just something about Everitt’s argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God doesn’t exist. I think the argument is a good one even if theists and skeptics themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .(98)

Loftus is correct that just because others disagree, that’s no reason not to make a particular argument one thinks is correct. But that’s not the question. The question is whether the argument is either a valid deductive argument or a correct inductive argument. As Loftus himself knows, subjective feelings of approval do not make an argument (deductively) valid or (inductively) correct.

Indeed, imagine if a Christian apologist defended William Lane Craig’s moral argument along the same lines as Loftus.

There is just something about Craig’s moral argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God exists. I think the argument is a good one even if atheists and theists themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .

Atheists (and probably many theists) would rightly blast such a weak defense of the moral argument. I see no relevant difference between such a hypothetical defense of Craig’s moral argument and Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s argument from scale.

Second Reason: The Scale of the Universe is Wasteful

Second, Loftus quotes Richard Carrier, who writes:

For the Christian theory does not predict what we observe, while the natural theory does predict what we observe. After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by natural accident. It would have no plausible purpose in the Christian God’s plan. You cannot predict from “the Christian God created the world” that “the world” would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life. But we can predict exactly that from “no God created this world.” Therefore, the facts confirm atheism rather than theism.[3]

Now Loftus quotes Carrier while discussing Everitt’s argument against classical theism, not an argument against the “Christian theory.” But let’s put that worry to the side. Does Carrier’s argument work against classical theism? I suspect that Carrier is correct that CT does not predict E, but the fact that CT does not predict E is evidence against CT if and only if CT predicts not-E (~E). So does CT predict ~E? According to Carrier, CT predicts ~E because E would be wasteful. But Carrier overlooks the fact that the concept of waste only applies to situations where there are limited resources. God, if He exists, is an omnipotent being with unlimited time and unlimited creative resources, so it’s a category error to say that the concept of waste applies to God.

Third Reason: No Purpose for the Scale of the Universe

Even so, we may still wonder, if CT is true, what would be the pu
rpose of creating a universe on such a massive scale? For all we know antecedently, when creating the universe, God could have had other goals in mind besides humans (such as artistic beauty, the creation of sentient life throughout the universe, and so forth). As Loftus himself writes:

This argument depends to some degree on whether or not God might have other purposes for creating such a universe even granting mankind as the jewel of his creation, and whether or not, given the existence of an infinitely creative mind, he would’ve made the universe on such a scale as we find it. (99)

Carrier provides no reason to think that if CT is true, God probably would not have had other purposes.

Fourth Reason: Theists Believed the Universe Was Small Until the Rise of Modern Science

On his blog, Loftus suggests a fourth reason for thinking that theism leads us to expect that humans would be the jewel of creation: theists throughout history thought the universe was on a human scale. In his words:

The best way to know what people would expect to find prior to the rise of modern science is to investigate what people thought of the universe before its rise. …

Western believers used to claim God (or Zeus) lived on Mt. Olympus. But then someone climbed up there and he wasn’t to be found. Then they claimed God lived just beyond the sky dome that supported the water, called the firmament. But we flew planes and space ships up into the air and found he wasn’t there either. Believers now claim God exists in a spiritual sense everywhere. What best explains this continual retreat? Doesn’t it sound more like the attempt to defend one’s faith as science progresses, rather than progressively understanding what God is like? Lowder’s argument falls to the ground unless he can show historically that there were a majority of Christians who concluded the universe could be as vast as it ended up being. Philosophy won’t solve this problem. Historical evidence will. Dante’s Divine Comedy says otherwise, most emphatically. Just look at how he described the heavens. Do some research on how popular his work was. Hint: it was so popular he is even called the "Father of the Italian language," more influential than Shakespeare was on the English language, and we know his influence was immense.

I have no objection to any of Loftus’s historical claims about what people thought of the universe before the rise of modern science. But Loftus is simply repeating one of Everitt’s supporting arguments, which I already addressed. I wrote that even if it’s historically accurate that theists throughout history believed the universe was on a human scale,

it is evidentially irrelevant. What matters is whether classical theists had any good antecedent reason on classical theism to believe J [that humans are the Jewel of creation]. Furthermore, it seems to me that classical theism provides an antecedent reason to deny J. In a discussion of the multiverse objection to an argument from evil, Paul Draper provides a fascinating argument for the conclusion that a multiverse is highly probable on theism. Here is Draper:

God, if she existed, would be very likely to create vast numbers of good worlds. Indeed, we can transcend our anthropomorphism just for a moment, the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being would create just our world and no others borders on the absurd. What a colossal waste of omnipotence and omniscience that would be! Surely a perfectly good God of limitless creative resources would create vastly many worlds, including magnificent worlds of great perfection as well as good but essentially flawed worlds that are more in need of special providence.[15]

To be sure, Draper himself acknowledges that this argument makes “some very controversial axiological assumptions,” which he defends.[16] While a discussion of those assumptions is beyond the scope of this paper, I think it is safe to say that Draper’s argument provides a prima facie reason, at least, to deny J. In short, on the assumption that theism is true, God probably did create creatures which are more impressive than humans, in other parts of our universe and in other universes.

Conclusion

I conclude, then, that neither Loftus nor Carrier have provided a good reason for thinking that humans would probably be the jewel of creation on the assumption that classical theism is true. Accordingly, I don’t think Loftus has successfully defended Everitt’s AS as an argument against classical theism.

Notes

[1] Everitt, The Non-Existence of God, p. 225.

[2] Cf. Everitt 2004, 221: “theism is committed to saying that humans are the most valuable things in creation.”

[3] Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” The Secular Web (2006), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html. Quoted in Loftus 2008, 99.

ETA: Added the text between  the paragraph which begins,“Now what about (3)?”, and the paragraph which begins, “Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation…”

ETA (8-Feb-12): Added the section on the fourth supporting argument.

bookmark_borderUpdate on Comments Migration

1. There were seven (7) comments submitted while I was migrating the new site to use Disqus for commenting. I had those held in a moderation queue while I tried migrating comments (so that they would not be lost)  and then I forgot about them. Tonight I tried “approving” them in the moderation queue and …, well, I’m not sure what happened to them. If you submitted a comment shortly after we moved to Patheos and have been waiting for it to appear, please check the post you commented on. If it displays, great. If not, that means it is probably lost; I apologize for the inconvenience.

2. I’m still trying to get Disqus comments from our old site to link to the correct posts here on Patheos.

bookmark_borderRobert Oerter’s Fine-Tuning Argument for Naturalism

Robert Oerter has written an interesting post on his blog outlining what he calls a fine-tuning argument for naturalism. It’s important to keep in mind that Oerter doesn’t actually believe that this argument is a good argument for naturalism. Rather, he thinks it’s useful for showing what’s wrong with the fine-tuning argument for theism.

Rather than try to summarize his argument, I invite readers to simply read it for themselves.

What follows is a comment I left at Oerter’s site.

You write:

Remember that God is, by hypothesis, omnipotent. That means that God could have caused life to arise by miraculous means, even in a universe that was not fine-tuned.

Let us define ML as the hypothesis that God miraculously allows life to arise in a universe that is not fine-tuned.

Both ML and its denial (~ML) are logically compatible with theism. So I think the best way to evaluate the evidential significance of ML is to treat ML as an auxiliary hypothesis and apply the theorem of total probability.

Pr(FTU | T & K & L) = Pr(ML | T) x Pr(FTU | ML & T & K & L) + Pr(~ML | T) x Pr(FTU | ~ML & T & K & L)

What that formula shows is that, in order for the fine-tuning argument for naturalism to work, Pr(ML | T) must be greater than Pr(~ML | T). But it is far from obvious that that is the case. So what reason is there to suppose that Pr(ML | T) > Pr(~ML | T)?

ETA: And if Pr(ML | T) < Pr(~ML | T), then it’s no longer clear how this argument is supposed to show what’s wrong with the theistic fine-tuning argument.

bookmark_borderWhen is a Debate “Win” Significant?

A reader asked me if I had watched the debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg. Here is my reply.

No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve read some of Rosenberg’s book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, however.  My prediction is that WLC not only “won” the debate, but that Rosenberg did awful. Why would I make such a prediction? Three reasons.

First, Rosenberg is not a specialist in the philosophy of religion. Here is how he summarizes his areas of focus:

My interests focus on problems in metaphysics, mainly surrounding causality, the philosophy of social sciences, especially economics, and most of all, the philosophy of biology, in particular the relationship between molecular, functional and evolutionary biology.

Compare that to the topics discussed in the debate. According to a summary of the debate, Craig used eight (8) arguments for God’s existence: (1) the contingency argument; (2) the kalam cosmological argument; (3) the applicability of mathematics to nature; (4) the fine-tuning argument; (5) an argument from consciousness; (6) the moral argument; (7) the resurrection of Jesus; and (8) religious experience.

At best, only two of those arguments are within Rosenberg’s area of specialization, whereas all of them are in Craig’s area of specialization (as arguments within the philosophy of religion). Let’s say that his focus on "metaphysics, mainly surrounding causality" makes him an expert on (1) and (2). To the best of my knowledge, he does not have the publication history Craig has on cosmological arguments. (His list of publications does not include a single publication about cosmological arguments.)

Now look at his other areas of focus: philosophy of social sciences and philosophy of biology. It’s hard to see the relevance of either to what was actually discussed in the debate. (To be clear: I think expertise in the philosophy of biology could be relevant if biological design arguments had been brought up in the debate. But it appears they were not. So his expertise in the philosophy of biology doesn’t seem to be relevant to the specific issues discussed.)

Now consider Rosenberg’s case for atheism: it apparently consisted solely of the argument from evil. Furthermore, he used a logical argument from evil. While there are contemporary atheistic philosophers of religion who defend a logical argument from evil (such as Quentin Smith and J.L. Schellenberg), it appears Rosenberg wasn’t aware of the standard criticisms of logical arguments from evil. This is further evidence that Rosenberg was debating a topic outside of his area of expertise.

Second, in Rosenberg’s book, he argues for scientism. I’m sure that WLC was licking his chops when he discovered that Rosenberg adopts scientism, since scientism is an easy target.

Third, while there are exceptions, WLC’s ivory tower opponents typically do awful.

If Rosenberg did do awful, I make another prediction: Christians will trumpet Craig’s ‘amazing’ victory as if it were some sort of substantive accomplishment, rather than a rhetorical victory.

The fact of the matter is that no atheist philosopher who specializes in the philosophy of religion advocates scientism, so the fact that an atheistic "scientism-ist" lost a debate on God’s existence–assuming Rosenberg did “lose”–is about as interesting as a theistic young earth creationist losing a debate on evolution vs. creationism.

Consider an analogy. There is a controversy among oncologists about whether some condition, C, is a risk factor for some rare form of cancer. The American Cancer Society sponsors a debate between two doctors: one who argues that C is a risk factor and one who argues that C is not a risk factor. Arguing for the former is one of the leading oncologists in the world. Arguing for the latter is a distinguished neurologist who is not also an oncologist. The neurologist takes a position (and uses arguments) that are not representative of those used by the "anti-C" camp of oncologists. The oncologist trounces the neurologist in the debate.

What would the significance of that debate be? The oncologist debater would have shown that the neurologist’s arguments were weak and the anti-C camp would join the oncologist in dismissing the neurologist’s arguments, quite possibly for the very same reasons used by the pro-C oncologist. For anyone familiar with the anti-C camp’s arguments for their position, should this undermine anyone’s confidence in the anti-C position? The answer is a resounding "no." Both pro-C and anti-C oncologists know that the anti-C camp’s arguments–arguments in the anti-C camp’s area of specialization but not in the neurologist’s area of specialization–weren’t tested in the debate.

Just to be clear, I want to clear up possible misunderstandings.

First, I don’t have any problem with Craig debating Rosenberg. Rosenberg is a professional philosopher who wrote a book about atheism. It’s just that Rosenberg’s position is not representative of what atheist philosophers of religion argue. (For a bibliography of such arguments, see here.)

Second, nothing I’ve written should in any way be construed as suggesting that Craig did not "win" the debate (assuming that he did). Again, my point is that the win is not significant because the best arguments for atheism weren’t tested in the debate.

Third, nothing I’ve written should be interpreted to mean that Craig always or usually debates people in his area of specialization but outside of theirs. My post is literally about Craig’s debate with Rosenberg and nothing else.

Fourth, for the record, I do think Craig has won debates with opponents who were debating a topic within their area of specialization. To name just one example, I think Craig clearly won his debate on God’s existence with the late Antony Flew.