Intermission: September 16, 2007

With apologies to Justin Martyr fans, I’m under a crunch time at the day job, and don’t have time for my weekly post. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy “An answer from the Manawatu Apologetics Society, originally published 5 years ago today. Note that at the time, I was writing under the pretentious/facetious pseudonym of “The Professor,” which I later changed because I wasn’t actually a professor anywhere. (I was once a deacon, though.)

Meanwhile, here’s the original post, which I’ve placed below the fold.

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In the eye of the believer

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 8: “Who Was Jesus?”)

In a study published in 2003 [PDF], psychology researchers Gary Wells and Elizabeth Loftus gave an example of how eyewitness testimony can evolve over time. A young woman was sexually assaulted and her friend was murdered. The young woman, Sherry Gillaspey worked with a police artist to put together a composite sketch of the assailant, and based this sketch, a young man named Thomas Brewster became a “person of interest.”

On December 19, 1984, Gillaspey was shown a photo lineup with Brewster’s photo in it. She could not make a positive identification. One day later, Gillaspey was shown a live lineup in which Brewster appeared. Again, Gillaspey could not make a positive identification… Nearly four years later, in August 1988, detectives again showed Gillaspey a photo lineup with Brewster’s picture in it. Once again she could not make a positive identification.

In 1995, 11 years after the murder, two new detectives were assigned to the case. These detectives brought photos and, after interviewing her with the photos, she signed a statement saying that Brewster was the killer. Six days later, she identified Brewster from a live lineup.

The report goes on to look at details of how the two new detectives, apparently believing or wanting Brewster to be the attacker, subtly guided Gillaspey into “remembering” Brewster as the perpetrator. Initially, the woman did not remember Brewster as being the man who assaulted her and murdered her friend, despite being an eyewitness to the whole thing. Under the influence of the two detectives, however, this “memory” appeared—more than a decade later! Nor is this a rare case. Wells and Loftus cite research documenting at least 80 innocent men in recent years who have been wrongly imprisoned—or executed—based on eyewitness testimony, sometimes involving multiple witnesses. Other research explains how this can happen, as Wells and Loftus summarize:

[D]ecades of research has shown that postevent information, particularly when it is misleading, can also alter recollections of other details about key events. A typical finding is that after receiving new information that is misleading in some way, people make errors when they report what they saw. The new, postevent information is often incorporated into the recollection, supplementing or altering it, sometimes in dramatic ways.

In short, eyewitness testimony is the category of evidence that is THE most likely to be influenced and/or modified in the presence of stress, peer pressure, the power of suggestion, and so on. This is why it is important to make a distinction, in historical research, between “independent” accounts that arise via collaboration in a context of shared religious fervor and perceived persecution, versus accounts that are truly independent (i.e. that arise without any collaboration, religious identification, shared goals, etc., between the parties). It is especially significant, then, that William Lane Craig consistently fails to make any such distinction in his own historical “research.”

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XFiles: Musical Gods

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 5: “Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?”)

Dr. Craig closes Chapter 5 with an attempt to debunk The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Specifically, he goes after Dawkins’ famous “Ultimate Boeing 747” argument, in an attempt to show that it does not disprove the “design” argument he makes for a “fine-tuned” universe. But before we dig in, I want to make just a quick observation about the difference between “design” and mere “function”.

In brief, the difference between design and function is simply the presence or absence of intention. Outwardly, design and function are indistinguishable: all you can see is that a certain set of causes work to produce a specific result. If this result was an intended outcome, then we say it was produced by design; if not, then it is merely functional. If a squirrel climbs a tree one one side of a stream, and runs across interwoven branches to reach a tree on the other side, then the branches function as a bridge. This does not mean, however, that the trees were designed as a bridge unless someone specifically intended for the trees to have that function.

Scientifically, all we can observe is the function. The evidence cited by ID creationists does not consist of actual, verifiable intention, it consists merely of specific instances of function. To turn this into design, we must assume the presence of actual intention which is not present in the evidence itself. In other words, what ID creationists are doing is making the assumption that observed functions were intended by some Creator, and then using this assumption to interpret the evidence in a way that leads to the conclusion that the functions were intended by some Creator. Or more briefly, they’re just being superstitious.

Now then, on to Craig v. Dawkins.

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XFiles: Constant superstition

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 5: “Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?”)

Chapter 5 starts the “Intelligent Design” portion of Dr. Craig’s apologetic, though he does not call it that. In fact, he puts in a sidebar that explicitly points out that “fine-tuned” does not mean designed. Fine tuning, he explains, “just means that the range of life-permitting values for the constants and quantities is extremely narrow.” But don’t let that mislead you, this is his ID argument, which he presents in the form of another syllogism.

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore it is due to design.

There are several significant flaws in this argument. First of all, as we saw last week, time itself has its origin, along with the rest of the universe, at the Big Bang. That means there has never been a time when the physical constants of the universe did not exist with their current values, which prevents any Designer from having the opportunity to design them. They’re already here, they already have the correct values, and the Designer himself could not have existed prior to the constants (since time itself does not go back that far), so we can eliminate design right off the bat.

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XFiles: Beginning vs. origin

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 4: “Why did the universe begin?”)

We’re in for a treat this week: the latter part of Chapter 4 is really quite good, and is an excellent overview of modern cosmology suitable for introducing Christian laymen to some of the subtleties of Big Bang theory. It’s not without its flaws and inaccuracies, and of course he’s writing with the intention of proving that God had to create the Big Bang. Fortunately, that conclusion doesn’t show up until the very end of the chapter, and a lot of the material in between is not bad at all, for a lay author.

Ironically, Dr. Craig seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that this effectively rules out the possibility of a divine Creator behind the Big Bang. Lucky for us, because there’s some good material here that we can share with creationists. And since it’s written by a leading Christian apologist, they can’t complain that it’s biased against God and the Bible. (Well, hell, they’re creationists, of course they can, but still.)

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XFiles: To infinity (and be wrong!)

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 4: “Why did the universe begin?”)

We’re on a trip back to 12th-century Persia. Dr. Craig needs someone to rescue the Christian God from the perils of scientific advancement, and he thinks he has found a champion in a Muslim philosopher named Ghazali. (It’s amazing that Dr. Craig is able to successfully sell Muslim philosophy to conservative post-9/11 American Christians, don’t you think?) According to Ghazali, whatever begins to exist has a cause (premise 1), the universe began to exist (premise 2) and therefore the universe has a cause (conclusion).

Being a medieval Muslim philosopher, Ghazali did not have access to discoveries about particle physics and so on, so to prove premise number 2, he (and Dr. Craig) rely on philosophy. The argument is a bit flawed, however, in that it relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of what an infinity is. Curiously enough, it also contradicts the Christian doctrine of eternal life.

Ghazali argued that if the universe never began to exist, then there have been an infinite number of past events prior to today. But, he argued, an infinite number of things cannot exist… Ghazali recognized that a potentially infinite number of things could exist, but he denied that an actually infinite number of things could exist….When we say that something is potentially infinite, infinity serves merely as an ideal limit that is never reached. For example, you could divide distance in half, then into fourths, then into eights… The number of divisions is potentially infinite, in the sense that you could go on dividing endlessly. But you’d never arrive at an “infinitieth” division. You’d never have an actually infinite number of parts or divisions.

If there cannot be an actually infinite number of events in the past, then there also cannot be an infinite number of events in the future. Believers can get around this by saying that most of those events are only potential events because we haven’t experienced them yet. According to Christian cosmology, however, God exists outside of space and time, and is therefore not subject to the “haven’t experienced it yet.” All times are supposed to be immediately real to God, and thus if there cannot be an infinite number of them, then sooner or later there must come a day that will be the last day in the life of “immortal” believers and even God Himself. This means that, according to Dr. Craig’s arguments in Chapter 2, Christian life is devoid of all true meaning, value and purpose.

Sorry, Christians.

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XFiles Weekend: Back to square one.

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 4: “Why did the universe begin?”)

Between Chapters 3 and 4, Dr. Craig shares a “personal interlude” in which he tells his readers all about how, at Wheaton College, he was skeptical when his conservative Christian theology professor told him that there were “no good arguments for God’s existence”. Such a view would have been perfectly consistent with the New Testament’s declaration that believers “walk by faith, not by sight,” but that prospect apparently wasn’t satisfying for the intelligent young man. As we saw before, he converted for social reasons, without ever finding (or seeking) solid, intellectually robust evidence for God, and now that he’d bought into Christianity, he seems to have been uncomfortable with his lack of a good justification for what he’d committed himself to.

Fortunately for his faith, he happened to pick up a book entitled The Resurrection of Theism by Stuart Hackett, in which Hackett laid out a number of arguments, the “centerpiece” of which became the core of Dr. Craig’s famous kalam argument. With his wife’s encouragement, he applied and was accepted as a doctoral student at the University of Birmingham (UK) under Dr. John Hicks. Lacking sufficient funds to pay for it, however, they began to pray, and eventually, through his wife’s family connections, they got a grant from a non-Christian businessman, which Dr. Craig attributes entirely to the Lord. (Apparently, God does not have any compunctions about tampering with people’s free will to get money out of them, as long as it doesn’t save their souls from eternal torment.)

During his doctoral studies, Dr. Craig unearthed the writings of a medieval Islamic philosopher named Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al Ghazali. A twelfth-century Persian, Al Ghazali disputed the claims of some philosophers who said that “the universe flows necessarily out of God and therefore is beginningless.” Some of this may sound vaguely familiar after Leibniz, but not to worry, there’s a lot that’s new and different here.

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