The question of God

Chris Hitchens debates William Lane Craig

Warning – I see no evidence to support the God hypothesis, and the arguments below dismantle all of Craig’s arguments.

Over the last 5 weeks a group of theists and atheists have met 4 times and discussed the likelihood of the existence of God.
Last night we watched the debate above.

Today I went through each of WLC arguments and dismantled them.

Read on by your own choice.
If you understand what is written, and I have tried to make it available to most people, then you are highly unlikely to sustain a belief in any sort of God by the end of this.
If you like believing in God, don’t read this, go read something else.
This is for those who are interested in asking questions and going where the evidence leads.

And to be clear, I accept the need for morality, it is a requirement, it just doesn’t require God.

14:00 WLC makes the claim that there is “No good argument that atheism is true.”
What does true mean?
It seems clear, from a modern understanding of the structure of brain and consciousness that what we experience as reality isn’t, but is actually a subconsciously created model of reality. Thus the idea of truth as being some sort of correspondence between our understanding and reality has to be seen as something of sketch that is useful in particular contexts, rather than any sort of picture that is accurate at all levels.
Thus the naive idea of truth being an accurate 1 to 1 correspondence between our understanding and reality is almost certainly rarely, if ever, accurate. It seems that the best any of us can hope for is successively more useful approximations to something that are useful in the sorts of contexts we find ourselves in. For all of us, our first approximations must start simple, and gradually expand into more complex models.
In the reality we have today, of exponentially increasing change, then many of the approximations that worked in our past are likely to fail in our near future.
This seems to apply both to the idea of Truth as any sort of an absolute, and to the idea of causality (as in particular contexts always delivering exactly the same outcomes).
A modern understanding of complex systems clearly indicates that in terms of understanding, the best we can hope for is a probabilistic spread that gives us an indication of the sorts of contexts where we can expect reliable outcomes and the sorts of contexts where chaos reigns.
Quantum mechanics allows us to understand chemistry, and to build modern electronics based on transistors and other more exotic devices. Quantum mechanics is predicated on several notions that are not intuitively obvious to entities of our size. One of those notions is that things can arise out of nothing, and do, provided that they are equally balanced, and sum to zero over certain time scales. So nothing is absolutely certain or absolutely causal in the quantum world. And things have degrees of influence that vary with space and time and probabilities.

The smallest thing we can see contains many trillions of atoms, and each sub part of each atom has existed for vast amounts of their smallest time units in the smallest time unit we can experience as conscious entities. So a certain level of reliability from such large collections of things is to be expected, and is in fact what we experience.
So just relying on what seems logical to our common sense isn’t a good guide to how our universe works at the scale of the very small.

So what could it mean to say that atheism is true?

What seems to in fact be the case, if one is prepared to put in the decades of work required to build a reasonable understanding of mathematics, probability, quantum mechanics, cosmology, chemistry, biochemistry, evolution, systems theory, games theory, complexity theory, computational theory, human history, philosophy, ecology, cultural evolution, the many levels of the neurophysiology of embodied cognition, psychology, etc, is that the idea of god as being a causal agent in any of this does not actually simplify it at all. In that context, the hypothesis of god is not required to explain anything.

And at the same time, I can clearly see that the hypothesis of God can save a lot of time in studying all of those systems, if it gets one to the point of accepting the need for moral systems without going through all the evolutionary and systems thinking required to clearly demonstrate that systems of morality are required boundary conditions for the long term survival of complex cooperative social entities such as ourselves.

15:36 WLC “There are good arguments that theism is true:
1 cosmological – why does anything exist?

Puts atheists in an awkward position – from nothing and by nothing.”

When one gets a handle on quantum mechanics (and that takes a few years work), then that isn’t really an issue.
It may be very unlikely, but then it has only happened once in 14 billion years in this space we know as our universe, so that is reasonably rare by most definitions.

Postulating an infinite eternal mind devoid of matrix creates far more problems than it solves, and is open to all the problems of infinities that Craig himself makes clear.

20:01 WLC “2 teleological argument”
Fine tuning.

This actually has the wrong end of the stick. It isn’t about fine tuning. It is about the sort of context in which conscious entities like ourselves might evolve. The fact that we exist in a context where it is possible for us to evolve is not a pointer to anything other that the likelihood of our having evolved by the process of evolution by natural selection.
And that sort of understanding could not have been available to our ancestors if they lacked a sufficient understanding of the systems involved. So we would expect them to develop explanatory frameworks within the conceptual sets that they had available, which does in fact seem to be what we see.
So no – no help at all for the God hypothesis from the teleological argument.

It is of no significance at all that life permitting universes are only a very tiny fraction of all possible universes.
It only matters that there is a 100% probability that any life that did evolve would be in one of those universes, and all other universes would be sterile.
We have no idea how many other universes may or may not exist.
So in this sense, his argument is total nonsense.
Universes are isolated from each other by definition. The rest of his multiverse conjecture is simply conjecture without evidence.
We are in this universe.
This universe has the properties it has.
That is what we can and do observe.
The idea of design is in no way the best explanation, it simply introduces far greater improbabilities (that of a complex designer, popping into existence from nothing, because he has already dismantled the idea of any real infinity).

WLC “3 The moral argument. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.”
He defines objective moral values as “valid and binding whether we believe them or not.”
Moral values can be objective in the sense of being necessary conditions for the survival of complex societies.
Complex societies without them tend to go extinct quite quickly.
Just like a cell wall is essential for a cell to exist, so moral constraints are essential for complex abstract social systems to exist. Absent the understandings from complex systems and games theory and evolutionary theory that prove that to be the case, any set of beliefs that work in practice to instantiate a set of moral values will work in practice, and lead to the survival of that society (all other things being equal – which in evolution is often not the case).

So, if we are interested in living a long time, with security, then we must accept sets of moral constraints appropriate to the level of social context. Failure to do so leads to an exponentially increasing likelihood of extinction.
That is reasonably objective, in real terms.

He makes the statement (26:01) that “Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction any deeper meaning is illusory.”
What could he possibly mean by the use of the term “deeper meaning”?
What could have greater meaning than the survival of all sapient entities?
Isn’t survival of all sapient believers ultimately what his belief structure is all about?
What could have deeper meaning than the survival of self, survival of the social context within which one exists (constantly evolving in both cases).
The constant capacity for personal growth, for higher choice, for transcendence of the structures and strictures of our past, seems to me to be the deepest and greatest meaning possible.
One can choose to engage with the journey, in the full knowledge of there being uncertainties and unknowns present and potential.
Isn’t the choice of such a journey as deep as it gets?
Isn’t acknowledging the necessity of morality as a required boundary condition for a necessary level of complexity simply being realistic.
Cells need cell walls, bodies need skin, societies need morals. It really is that simple in a sense (though vastly more complex in practice).
Societies without morals will, sooner or later (probably sooner), cease to be.
And morals need to be complex, and context sensitive, just like cell walls, and skin. Some things must be able to pass through, and what gets in or out will need to change with context – such is the nature of complexity.
And complexity demands boundaries.
Absent cell walls, our water becomes a puddle, or part of the ocean.
Our sort of complexity absolutely requires boundaries, and they can be very complex, many layered, in some contexts.
Morality is not a simple subject, and it is an essential subject.
And as with all such things, one must start with simple approximations to something, that are workable in the context within which one exists.

So, no, I do not at all accept WLC’s assertion that survival lacks deep meaning. To the contrary, I assert that survival, construed within a high level cooperative social context, has the deepest meaning possible. To see, as Jesus is purported to have done, that all individuals have value in and of themselves, as well as their value as members of their social groups. And it is the individual value that is highest, and it must exist within social and ecological contexts, which contexts demand responsible action from those individuals. No free lunch. With freedom and worth comes responsibility for actions.
Far from being illusory, nothing is more real.

WLC “4 the resurrection of Jesus.”
It is difficult to be certain about Resurrection. The stories of Jesus were an oral tradition for more than 20 years between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first of the books of the New Testament.
Most biblical scholars agree that of the 4 Gospels Mark was the earliest to be written (some 35 years after Jesus died).
How much credence would a modern jury give to an eye witness account written 35 years after the event?
Without doubt there are many valuable ideas present in the “teachings of Jesus”, and many of them appear to be very much older than the person of Jesus.
Bertrand Russel documented (in Pagan Christs) 13 other stories involving death and Resurrection that predate Jesus.
The case for the literal Resurrection of Jesus is not as strong as WLC makes out, whatever his personal beliefs may be.

WLC “5 The immediate experience of God.” Claims it to be a “properly basic belief”.
“Formed in the context of experience.”
I have no doubt that people experience being in the presence of something so vastly more complex than they can consciously comprehend that the term God is a useful approximation to something.
Such experiences are real, I have no doubt of that.
I accept that in the same way as when building a house I treat the earth as being flat, and I watch the sun rise out of the ocean, travel overhead, and set behind the western mountains. That is my experiential reality. I do not interpret that as objective reality. I accept that I live on a large ball of rock spinning on an axis that is slightly off perpendicular to the orbital plane of that rock around the big ball of gas subject to nuclear fusion that we call the Sun.
Experiential reality and interpretive reality can be very different things.
For the purpose of building a house, flat earth works.
For the purpose of sailing a thousand miles, I’d better be using round earth, or I will likely hit rocks several miles from where I intended to be.
If I want to build a GPS system for navigation, then I need to go into even stranger territory, and use the equations of general relativity to determine the distortions to the space-time matrix – if I do this, then my system will work to an accuracy that allows measurement of land movement of less than the width of a pencil per year.
Experiential reality, and best interpretive model for purpose, can be two very different things.
Our subconscious brains are vastly more complex than our conscious experience. It is now clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that our consciousness is an emergent property from that subconscious complexity, not the cause of it.
So when we become aware of what lies beneath our consciousness, it can have the attributes of either god or demon, depending on context.
We are very complex entities, evolved over deep time, with many layers of very complex systems.

If you seek the best within yourself, you have a reasonable chance of finding that.
If you allow the worst within yourself to take control, that is unlikely to be pretty in any dimension.
Certainly, seek the best within yourself, listen to that, and do so critically.

For me, the case for the unlikelihood of God is proven beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

At the same time, I acknowledge the necessity of the evolution of the idea of God as a ground for morality in an age before the logic of systems theory and games theory could establish a firmer theoretical basis for the sets of social restraints necessary for individual security and individual liberty in a complex social and ecological context.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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