Thursday, November 19, 2009

Craig vs. Dennett

Here is audio of a debate of sorts between William Lane Craig and Daniel Dennett (if that doesn't work for you, try it from here). Craig spends 45 minutes going over three theistic arguments in some detail: Leibnizian cosmological arguments, kalām cosmological arguments, and anthropic principle teleological arguments. Dennett responds for about 10 minutes. He seems impressed by Craig's presentation, but objects that our intuitions (about causality for example) when taken to these conclusions, cease to be intuitive. I'm not sure that's really relevant though, since the exposition of an intuition is never as obvious and clear as the intuition itself. At any rate, it's obviously more plausible to affirm the principle of causality than to deny it.

He also objects to the claim that abstract objects do not stand in causal relations. He suggests they can in a sense, but the sense he describes is clearly formal causal relations. The claim is that they cannot stand in efficient causal relations, and so cannot be appealed to as efficient causes.

It ends with a couple of minutes of commentary by "Alister" who I assume is Alister McGrath since Craig's CV includes "In Defense of Theistic Arguments" in the just-published The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue.


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16 comments:

Matko said...

Dennett remarks that whatever we will discover about the universe's and our origin, it will be "mind-boggling."

From Dennett's perspective, that this universe is brought to existence by an omnipotent, immaterial, timeless, changeless, personal being is "mind-boggling". He better prepare for the worst.

David Hopson said...

Phew! Does anyone know where this comes from? My brief Googling doesn't throw up the answer.

Well worth the time to listen to it.

Jim S. said...

I got it from here, which looks like it has all of Craig's debates.

Matthew said...

Dennett remarks that whatever we will discover about the universe's and our origin, it will be "mind-boggling."

Many atheists think the idea of theism IS mind-boggling.

Coincidence?

Justin Martyr said...

Good link. It seems like Pruss' Liebnitzian argument is officially on the front burner. I think we all need to buy the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology and bone up on it.

Matko said...

Hey, Justin. Did you perhaps had Scott Soames' two tome history of analytic philosophy on you Amazon wishlist? If you did, many thanks! I bought the titles because I stumbled on your excellent wishlist. If not, sorry I bothered you.

Justin Martyr said...

That was me! I'm glad you enjoyed the list and found it useful. It's not on the current version because I change it periodically, but I think I'll put it back on.

Matko said...

I'm baffled why you removed it.

And it's not the only item on the list I'm interested in possessing.

Justin Martyr said...

I've been evolving away from philosophy and more towards an empirical viewpoint. I've had less patience with the minutia, the need for ultra precise definitions, and the finely split hairs, and the dense insider jargon.

Case in point. I got in a debate about with a member of the desire utilitarianism cult and mentioned the naturalistic fallacy. Standard "its an open question after defining good" and the atheist launched into a long discussion about how that doesn't properly represent what Moore meant, and besides, Moore drew the wrong conclusions, and so on.

To my mind that was completely irrelevant. Either give me evidence for why X is good or give me a reason why you don't need evidence but can believe it rationally. I don't want to sort through a history of philosophical thought.

Another example: Dennet's response to Craig's logic and empirics with philosophical hair splitting about the nature of causation. Lame.

I feel like you need enough knowledge so you feel confident "deescalating" discussions back down to plain English rather than getting intimidated and disengaging. But after that the value of more philosophy is low.

Does any of that make sense?

Matko said...

I've been evolving away from philosophy and more towards an empirical viewpoint.

Which, ironically, is a philosophical position.

How can you approach questions like God's existence or personal identity through time if not inside philosophy? Science cannot give you answers on those subjects. It's beyond her tools and methods. Don't expect epiphanies there where you won't find any.
I've had less patience with the minutia, the need for ultra precise definitions, and the finely split hairs, and the dense insider jargon.

What you call "hair splitting" is to me achievement of highest intellectual condition and rigor humans can muster in their search for answers about themselves and the world they inhabit. Natural sciences can come only second after it.

Real answers are never stated or solved simple. This is what analytical philosophy teaches, or entire life for that matter.

Don't underestimate language's influence on our modes of thinking. Many times, language befuddled our attempts at reasoning, and because of it, philosophy had many dead ends, returning only to progress at dawn of 20th century.

While analytic philosophers learned the lesson that philosophy cannot only be linguistic analysis, they never gave up on rigor and clarity, a guarantee against intellectual charlatanism, something prevalent in other philosophical traditions.

Case in point. I got in a debate about with a member of the desire utilitarianism cult and mentioned the naturalistic fallacy. Standard "its an open question after defining good" and the atheist launched into a long discussion about how that doesn't properly represent what Moore meant, and besides, Moore drew the wrong conclusions, and so on.

To my mind that was completely irrelevant. Either give me evidence for why X is good or give me a reason why you don't need evidence but can believe it rationally. I don't want to sort through a history of philosophical thought.


Again. Solutions and explanations don't come served on a platter. Didn't you learn this by reading philosophy? Or Soames' treatment of Moore?

Another example: Dennet's response to Craig's logic and empirics with philosophical hair splitting about the nature of causation. Lame.

The man is a careful thinker, though I don't agree with him on many points, and his response to Craig is not necessarily a good one like Jim pointed out.

And why are you ignoring Craig's philosophical profession? He uses same emphasis on minutiae and "hair splitting" you devalue. Without it, philosophy would turn into a simplistic discipline, garnering not intellectual respect from other disciplines and experts. Serious questions deserve serious treatment.

Anonymous said...

Matko, to be fair, a lot of times philosophy comes across as... flim-flam, for lack of a better word. Sophistry.

Which isn't to say philosophy is not important (I think, gravely so - and I'm a theist), or that no important insights are revealed by philosophy, or even that one can escape philosophy (I'm sure you're aware of people who claim to have no patience for philosophy, and just prefer science - and seem unaware that they're still engaging in philosophy.)

But I can sympathize with Justin Martyr to a degree. I say this as someone who's enjoying reading up on Aquinas lately, and am coming to appreciate metaphysics, the ideas of formal and final causes, etc.

Matko said...

Matko, to be fair, a lot of times philosophy comes across as... flim-flam, for lack of a better word. Sophistry.

Like in any human endeavor, there will be downfalls or outright fallacies. There is bad philosophy as there is bad chemistry or bad physics. That doesn't mean the entire discipline is rotten to its core.

Exactly such concerns motivated Moore and Russell when they began the analytic tradition. They saw philosophy becoming pointlessly esoteric and convoluted. When they were students at Cambridge, the dominant philosophy of that time was British Idealism, a late influence of Hegelianism after the Isle was spared from it for almost the entire 19th century.

Moore championed the Common Sense approach to philosophy, on one hand, where philosophical activity must be based on certain, pre-philosophical convictions no normal man can deny. On other hand, Russell began to apply symbolic logic to analyze language statements and its underlying logical form. It was there, he thought, where we can solve philosophical problems, or demonstrate there's no philosophical problem at all. Russellian analysis is perfect antidote to language abuse that often crept in various philosophical schools, and still creeps in contemporary philosophy, especially inside continental Europe.

You have this legacy all the way till now: concentration on specific problems instead of constructing large philosophical systems (Tough early analytic philosopher weren't exactly consistent; Russell's and early Wittgenstein's logical atomism was the greatest philosophical system of 20th century.), clarity and rigor, and strict argumentation. I'd add here adherence to natural sciences, aware that philosophical argumentation cannot be held in vacuum. Craig's argument from modern cosmology is a clear example.

Anonymous said...

Well, Matko, I didn't say philosophy was rotten to the core. I tried my best to highlight its value and its broad domain.

But I do sympathize with Justin's complaints. Especially in our modern internet environment, and in an age where philosophy is (like everything else) often treated as one more tool in the service of politics and otherwise, or a political battlefield itself. Maybe Russell & company had to deal with philosophy having gone too esoteric. But now we have to deal with philosophy gone political and petty.

I mean, honest appraisal from yourself: Is most of the philosophy you come across what you would call... hell, let's use a word like "valuable"? And I mean anytime you come across philosophical assertions or arguments, rather than any time you go out of your way to find something of value to read from a praised or time-tested source.

Matko said...

But I do sympathize with Justin's complaints. Especially in our modern internet environment, and in an age where philosophy is (like everything else) often treated as one more tool in the service of politics and otherwise, or a political battlefield itself. Maybe Russell & company had to deal with philosophy having gone too esoteric. But now we have to deal with philosophy gone political and petty.

You have to be specific. Show me an instance where some part of contemporary philosophy is abused for political means.

It's problematic for me to conceive how "possible world semantics" or "antirealism" can be used for winning political points or rallying supporters. If you had ethics and political philosophy in mind, I see no point of controversy. Other philosophical branches belong to the academic ivory tower, too abstract to be of any use to a political leader.

Some philosophies - are - intertwined with politics. Most Marxists were, in the same time, political activists, while Heidegger got close to national-socialism and accordingly molded his philosophy. These are legitimate examples, but aren't connected with philosophy I study and research.

I mean, honest appraisal from yourself: Is most of the philosophy you come across what you would call... hell, let's use a word like "valuable"? And I mean anytime you come across philosophical assertions or arguments, rather than any time you go out of your way to find something of value to read from a praised or time-tested source.

When I mean philosophy, I mean academic philosophy. As a philosophy undergraduate, I derive my knowledge from books and articles.

The word "philosophy" is the next most abused word after "spirituality". I see many of such "philosophy" on internet blogs and forums. Most of it is not "valuable" as you say, and I don't spend time reading dilettantes and pseudo-intellectual rubbish.

From a professional side, there are big players and small players in philosophy. Just like in any academic discipline. As a philosophy starter, I'm not acquainted with PhD level activity, reading their books notwithstanding. Adding the fact I come from a small country, distant from Oxbridge and Ivy League philosophy departments, spatially and financially, I cannot determine how much of it is good and how much of it is bad. For now, every book I own was always "valuable", so I can't charge those philosophers for sophistry. At least not in a peer-review system.

Anonymous said...

At any rate, it's obviously more plausible to affirm the principle of causality than to deny it.
As far as we know, that is only true in our universe (which is what Dennett is saying). So more plausible it is not.

Anonymous said...

As far as we know, that is only true in our universe (which is what Dennett is saying). So more plausible it is not.

And what's so special about our universe that causation can't be true outside it? I smell special pleading.