Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Logic of an Apologist

I’ve recently listened to a quite a few debates between William Lane Craig and various notables (linked below). I’ve done this in order to understand a comment made by Sam Harris along the lines that Craig has put the fear of god into various atheists. Listening to multiple debates by any single person in a short period of time is painful, but it does allow one to identify some of the tricks that are used by that person and also the typical errors committed by opponents.

In my first article, I looked at the argument used by Craig – the argument from morality – that bothers me most, because I have an abiding interest in Ethics as a philosophical subject. In my second, I focussed more on Craig’s debating style.

What I want to do now is to look more closely at the logic of Craig’s arguments. I may not be the first person to do so and hopefully will not be the last, but I am sincerely hoping that the hours spent listening to William Lane Craig wax lyrical can be of some use to someone. I don't intend to comment in this article on the content of Craig's arguments or on what I think he tries to do with those arguments, I'll just address the logic. I intend to go through my objections to the content and so on in a later article.

So, let's do this.

There are six basic arguments that Craig uses (and a seventh which he doesn't usually trot out, but has defended as a prima facie argument to support his case – note that this might be yet another example of Craig’s conflations, since the term prima facie has different meanings depending on how it is used, in a legal argument it is indicative of strength, in a debate it just refers to the planks of an argument which under the rules of debating cannot be expanded upon once established and in a philosophical argument it is indicative of weakness). These are the arguments:

Argument 1 – Cosmological Argument from Contingency
(argued inductively, then presented deductively during Craig-Krauss)
  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God.
Argument 2 – Cosmological Argument from First Cause
(argued during Craig-Law – wording taken from Craig-Krauss)

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Argument 3 – Argument from Morality
(argued during Craig-Law – strangely enough not in
Craig-Harris)
  1. If God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
Argument 4 – Argument from Fine-Tuning for Intelligent Life
(argued during Craig-Smith – wording taken from Craig-Krauss)
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either (sic) physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.
Argument 5 – Argument from Resurrection
(a form was argued during Craig-Ehrman – wording taken from Craig-Krauss)
  1. There are three established facts about Jesus: his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
  2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
  3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that God exists.
  4. Therefore, God exists.
Argument 6 – Argument from Absurdity
(from one of Craig’s books – the specific chapter is here)
  1. If God does not exist, then life is futile.
  2. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful.
  3. We may only live happily and consistently if life if meaningful.
  4. If the evidence for these two options (non-existence and existence of God) were absolutely equal, a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity.
Argument 7 – Ontological Argument
(defended during a Book Fair starting at 07:57 and on Craig's website)
  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
Each of these arguments appears logically correct, with the exception of Argument 6. Note that this does not mean they are in any way related to truth, just that they consist of strings of syllogisms to form a polysyllogism (or a single prosyllogism, also known as a modus ponens).  

A syllogism takes the form: 
  1. Major Premise – All M are P
  2. Minor Premise – All S are M (or S falls into the category of “All M”)
  3. Conclusion – All S are P (or S is P)
An example is: 
  1. Major Premise – All standard cats are three-legged.
  2. Minor Premise – Tiddles is a standard cat.
  3. Conclusion – Tiddles is three-legged.
A prosyllogism (or modus ponens) takes the form: 
  1. Premise – If A then B
  2. Assertion – A
  3. Conclusion – B
An example is: 
  1. Premise – If fish A is a standard cat, then fish A has three legs.
  2. Assertion – The fish Tiddles is a standard cat.
  3. Conclusion – The fish Tiddles has three legs.
A polysyllogism may take the form: 
  1. Premise 1 – If A then B
  2. Premise 2 – If B then C
  3. Assertion – A
  4. Conclusion – C
An example is: 
  1. Premise 1 – If a pet fish is called “Tiddles”, then that pet fish must be a standard cat.
  2. Premise 2 – If fish A is a standard cat, then fish A has three legs.
  3. Assertion – There is a pet fish called “Tiddles”.
  4. Conclusion – The pet fish called "Tiddles" has three legs.
Note that you can keep adding premises, so long as you link the “then” to the following “if”, and you maintain consistency of terms throughout. Note also that it is not generally accepted that standard cats have three legs, nor that cats are fish, nor that there are restrictions regarding the naming of pets (be they fish or otherwise). Logic works perfectly well with untrue premises, even with ridiculous premises. 

Now I will try to present Craig’s arguments in a more formal fashion (although not strictly formal). 

Argument 1 (which is actually three arguments)

I’ve had to reword this argument to get it into a logical format. I don’t think I’ve damaged the argument by doing so, but I’m open to constructive criticism. As stated the argument consists of a syllogism followed by a modus ponens. 

Part 1 
  1. Major Premise – Everything that exists (All M) has an explanation of its existence (P).
  2. Minor Premise – The universe (S) falls into the category of “Everything that exists” (All M).
  3. Conclusion – The universe (S) has an explanation of its existence (P).
Part 2 
  1. Premise – If the universe has an explanation of its existence (A) then that explanation is God (B).
  2. Assertion – The universe has an explanation of its existence (A from Part 1).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the explanation for the existence of the universe is God (B).
At this point, all that the argument can logically conclude (as much as it does) is that the explanation for the existence of the universe is God – if one accepts the premises and the assertion. However, there is an additional argument that is only implied (shown as a modus ponens): 

Part 3 
  1. Premise – If an explanation is strong (A2) then any agents called upon in that explanation must exist (B2).
  2. Assertion – The explanation for the existence of the universe is strong (A2).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the agent called upon in that explanation, namely God, must exist (B2).
Now I use the term “strong” with respect to an argument. This could be “sufficient”, “necessary”, “comprehensive” or whatever Craig likes. He’d have to argue this explicitly for us to know what he means.

(Argument addressed in detail here)

Argument 2 

This is a simple syllogism. 
  1. Major Premise – Everything that begins to exist (All M) has a cause (P).
  2. Minor Premise – The universe (S) falls into the category of “Everything that begins exist” (All M).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the universe (S) has a cause (P).
Note that this is not the entirety of Craig’s argument, since he doesn’t tend to stop with “a cause” but rather extends it out to an “uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe”. This is Craig’s argument – it hurts my brain to try to put it into logical form, and quite possibly the argument will seem ridiculous unless hidden behind a “formal logic” smokescreen:
Now from the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because we’ve seen that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless, at least without the universe, because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical. Now there are only two possible candidates that could fit such a description: either an abstract object, like a number, or an unembodied mind or consciousness. But abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations. The number seven, for example, can’t cause anything! Therefore, it follows that the transcendent cause of the universe is an unembodied mind. And thus we are brought, not merely to an Uncaused Cause of the universe, but to its Personal Creator. 
Here goes:
  1. Premise 1 – If something created the universe (A) then whatever created the universe must have created time and space (B).
  2. Premise 2 – If something created time and space (B) then that something must have existed before the existence of time (C1) and outside space (C2).
  3. Premise 3– If anything existed before the existence of time (C1) then that thing must be timeless (D).
  4. Premise 4 – If something is timeless (D) then it must be changeless as well as timeless (E).
  5. Premise 5 – If something is outside space (C2) then it must be immaterial (F).
  6. Premise 6 – If something is immaterial (F) then it must be an abstract object (G1) or an unembodied mind or consciousness (G2).
  7. Premise 7 – If something is able to create something (a generalisation of A) then that something cannot be an abstract object (not G1).
  8. Assertion 1 – Something created the universe (A).
  9. Conclusion 1 – Therefore, the something that created the universe is changeless as well as timeless (E), immaterial (F) and an unembodied mind or consciousness (G2).
  10. Premise 8 – If there cannot be an infinite regress of causes (X) then there must be an initial uncaused cause (Y).
  11. Assertion 2 – There cannot be an infinite regress of causes (Z).
  12. Conclusion 2 – Therefore, there must be an initial uncaused cause (Y).
  13. Bonus Conclusion – Therefore, the uncaused, changeless, timeless, immaterial and unembodied mind or consciousness is a Personal Creator.
Please note that the Bonus Conclusion is not a logically valid conclusion since there are no premises which mention a Personal Creator from which the statement can be concluded. Craig also inserts "being" in as a Bonus Conclusion from time to time.

(Argument addressed in detail here)

Argument 3 

This appears to be a simple syllogism, note the use of "not": 
  1. Major Premise – If God does not exist (not A) then objective moral values and duties do not exist (not B).
  2. Minor Premise – Objective moral values and duties do exist (B).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (A).
OK, hopefully you noticed the use of "not". Perhaps you didn't notice that this is not a normal syllogism. Look at the A and B and you might notice that they not where they usually are. This is isn't really a problem, because this is what the nots do - in other words, we could rewrite this argument like this:
  1. Major Premise – If objective moral values and duties exist (A) then God exists (B).
  2. Minor Premise – Objective moral values and duties do exist (A).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (B).
This is not a similar argument - it is precisely the same argument, worded differently. The question is, why word it so oddly in the first place? Unless of course one wanted to deceive. How would you deceive? Well, if someone thought that Craig was arguing this:
  1. Major Premise – If God exists (A) then objective moral values and duties exist (B).
  2. Minor Premise – Objective moral values and duties exist (B).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (A).
This is akin to:
  1. Major Premise – If Trevor is a vampire (A) then Trevor will sleep during the day (B).
  2. Minor Premise – Trevor sleeps during the day (B).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, Trevor is a vampire (A).
Thus those on the night shift get shafted, yet again. This is clearly a fallacy (irrespective of whether Trevor is a vampire) because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Craig's framing of the argument this way has the reader feeling that it's wrong somehow, but unsure of how, where or why. The fact is, the argument is a null argument for God in that even if the opponent argues successfully for the non-existence of moral values and duties, that won't touch Craig's God since, in the strict framing of the argument, the existence of God isn't contingent on the existence of moral values and duties - only the reverse. The argument is framed purely to trick the opponent into conceding what looks like an acceptable premise (like the Major Premise in the fallacious version), then bludgeoning them into accepting at least a single objective moral value or duty to obtain a technical victory. 

(Argument addressed in detail here)

Argument 4 (in two parts)

Again I had to reword the argument slightly to present it in logical form. Again, this does nothing to the logic of the argument itself, which contains two concatenated modus ponens. 

Part 1
  1. Premise – If the universe is fine-tuned (A1) then this fine-tuning is due to physical necessity, chance or design (B1).
  2. Assertion – The universe is fine-tuned (A1).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe is due to physical necessity, chance or design (B1).
Part 2 
  1. Premise – If the fine-tuning of the universe is due to physical necessity, chance or design (from B1) but is not due to physical necessity or chance (A2) then the fine-tuning of the universe is due to design (B2).
  2. Assertion – The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to physical necessity or chance (A2).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe is due to design (B2).
This is the actual argument and, yes, it seems ridiculous. If it didn’t seem ridiculous, then you didn’t read it properly. Oh, alright, he does claim to have supporting arguments for why fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance. I'll look at those in a later article.

(Argument addressed in detail here

Argument 5 (actually three arguments)

This is a mind bending argument, involving a syllogism followed by a modus ponens. 

Part 1 
  1. Major Premise – There is a set of special facts (All M) for which the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation (P)
  2. Minor Premise – There are three established facts about Jesus: his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection (S) which fall into the category of special facts (M).
  3. Conclusion – The three established facts about Jesus (S) have the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” as the best explanation (P).
Part 2 
  1. Premise – The hypothesis “X raised someone from the dead” is the best explanation for anything (A, from P) then X exists (B).
  2. Assertion – The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation for the three established facts about Jesus (A).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (B).
There’s an assumption here as well (shown as a modus ponens): 
  1. Premise – If an explanation is the best explanation one currently has to hand (A2) then that argument is true (B2).
  2. Assertion – The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation one currently has to hand (A2).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is true (B2).

This one is simply not logical. I’ve tried though:
  1. Sort of Major Premise 1 – The words “does exist” (All M) are interchangeable with the words “is believed in by a person” (P).
  2. Premise 2 – If God does not exist (not A), then life is futile in general (not B).
  3. Corollary 1 – If God is not believed in by a person (from not A1 and P), then life for that person is futile (not B1).
  4. Premise 3 – If life for a person is futile (not B1) then that person cannot live happily and consistently (not C).
  5. Premise 4 – If the God of the Bible exists (A), then life is meaningful in general (B).
  6. Corollary 2 – If the God of the Bible is believed in by a person (A1 from A and P), then that person may live happily and consistently (B1).
  7. Premise 5 – If life is meaningful for a person (B1) then that person will live happily and consistently (C).
  8. Premise 6 – If a person chooses to (D) they can believe what they want to (E).
  9. Premise 7 – If a person is rational (F), they will choose to live happily and consistently (G).
  10. Random Assertion – People are more interested in living happily through belief than dealing with what is true (H, I think).
  11. Premise 8 – If the evidence for these two options (non-existence and existence of God) were absolutely equal (I), a rational person ought to choose biblical Christianity (J).
  12. Assertion – The evidence for these two options (non-existence and existence of God) were absolutely equal, or possibly (in the mind of William Lane Craig) leaning towards Biblical Christianity (I)
  13. Conclusion – A rational person ought to choose Biblical Christianity (J).
 Yeah, I know. It’s a mess.

(Argument addressed in detail here

Argument 7 

This is a straightforward polysyllogism, possibly because it is derived from Anselm’s ontological argument (via Plantinga). 
  1. Premise 1 - If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  2. Premise 2 - If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  3. Premise 3 - If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  4. Premise 4 - If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
  5. Assertion – It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  6. Conclusion – Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
This was the easiest one to phrase, other than Argument 3. Note that because I put the Assertion just before the Conclusion, the argument seems slightly more ridiculous than otherwise, but it shouldn't make any difference where the Assertion goes so long as you see it before the Conclusion, right? I mean, you don't put the Assertion up the front then have a string of premises simply to hide the fact that the whole argument is clearly wrong, right?

(Argument addressed in detail here)
----------------

Check the works of the other debaters here:
Stephen Law
Lawrence Krauss
Lewis Wolpert
Quentin Smith
Sam Harris
and to be scrupulously fair, the New Testament scholar (who believes that Jesus exists, that the New Testament stories about him were based in reality to some extent and that he was crucified, but that he was not divine and didn't get resurrected)
Bart Erhman

2 comments:

  1. Hi again, Neo!
    This is a fantastic post. I very much appreciate the way you give useful explanations for beginners, break down the logic, and analyze everything thoroughly. You are taking the time to examine everything in depth, which is very important if you want to make a solid point.

    I especially liked the way you re-worded Argument 4 to expose what Craig is actually saying. I never thought about it that way before! I applaud you skills of perception.

    Argument 4 is of particular interest to me because I am currently writing an Honors Thesis on the Fine-Tuning argument. Have you heard of Victor Stenger? I am interacting with his book 'The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning.' Anyway, if you get a chance, I would love to read more from you on the fine-tuning argument.

    If I may ask, do you have any formal training in philosophy?

    Keep up the good work! You are writing some top quality posts here. As soon as I am able, I'm going to read everything you have up so far.

    -Josh the Searcher

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Josh,

      Thanks. I've not heard of Stenger before, but if I see one of his books at the store, I may well be tempted to take a closer look.

      Your thesis topic sounds quite interesting, I suppose you have seen my much shorter attempt at it, in WLC5: Fine-Tuning Towards Ignorance (posted in July). Like many of Craig's arguments, it was very difficult to work out just where to start. A longer thesis paper would allow you the flexibility to really flesh out all the problems in much greater depth than I was able to.

      My formal professional interests lie outside of philosophy, but I have been a very engaged "amateur" with regards to philosophy for many years now. The benefit that comes with being an amateur is that I am permitted to take a much lighter tone than I would possibly otherwise be able to.

      Delete

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