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Feb 21 2014

Carroll-Craig debate tonight

The debate between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig on the topic The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology that I wrote about before is being held this evening at 8:00 pm Eastern time. At Carroll’s blog you can find out more details and how to access the live stream of the event.

Carroll seems to have the right attitude, serious but also light-hearted, to these debates. As he says:

You can find some of WLC’s thoughts on the upcoming event at his Reasonable Faith website. One important correction I would make to what you will read there: Craig and his interlocutor Kevin Harris interpret my statement that “my goal here is not to win the debate” as a strategy to avoid dealing with WLC’s arguments, or as “a way to lower expectations.” Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.

This debate will be at a higher intellectual level than the Nye-Ham one. Craig is a polished and slippery debater but I expect Carroll to more than hold his own, because he knows what he is talking about and is not easily distracted from the main issues.

Unfortunately, I have an engagement this evening and so will not be able to tune in. If anyone does watch it, please post your reflections on it below.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    cafink

    This is a local venue for me, and so I’ll be attending the debate in person. I’ve listened to a lot of WLC debates, and I pretty much agree with the consistent. His debating technique is very strong, his actual arguments much less so. I’m not as familiar with Sean Carroll’s work but I know he’s a smart guy and I expect a strong showing from both sides tonight.

  2. 2
    Mano Singham

    @cafink,

    That’s great that you will be there live because you can also get a good sense of the crowd mood, atmospherics, and other intangibles. If you can post your reflections, that would be wonderful.

  3. 3
    colnago80

    Craig is a polished and slippery debater but I expect Carroll to more than hold his own, because he knows what he is talking about and is not easily distracted from the main issues.

    Shorter Singham: Craig is a more polished liar then Ken Ham.

  4. 4
    HumanisticJones

    I’m getting myself ready for another standard WLC debate…

    Scientist: Look at all of my evidence and data. All lines point towards my position and Craig’s has no supporting evidence.
    WLC: None of that matters, including the original topic of the debate, because it doesn’t explain why the TOMB WAS EMPTY!

    Honestly though, I like these debates more for what I learn from the scientists and less for the “debate” part which amounts to WLC running through his powerpoint slides again.

  5. 5
    colnago80

    Re #4

    The tomb was empty because there was a hidden entrance and ole Yeshua slipped out through there unseen by the folks who were guarding the main entrance.

  6. 6
    Kung-Fu Joe

    I just sincerely hope that Carroll sticks to cosmology, as much as possible.

    In WLC’s podcast discussing the debate, he rightly critique’s Carroll’s fairly weak argument that God doesn’t exist, because the world doesn’t appear as he would expect if God did exist; and that the Bible cannot be the Word of God, because the Bible doesn’t appear as he would expect if the Bible really was the Word of God.

    Now, obviously, I neither believe that gods exist, nor that any documents in existence directly represents the will of such beings. However, Carroll’s argument from expectation is an unfortunate strawman, and it will hurt him more than help, against Craig.

    What I would rather like to see would be for Carroll to attack Craig’s rather ludicrous assertions about Relativity and Time. WLC’s entire understanding of cosmology is predicated upon his misconceptions about the nature of Time.

  7. 7
    Rob Grigjanis

    Craig’s rather ludicrous assertions about Relativity and Time.

    I hadn’t heard about this, so looked, and found this. Yikes.

    Most theorists resolve the “paradox” by adopting a four-dimensional view of reality, such as was proposed by Herrmann Minkowski, which does away with reference frames and enduring three-dimensional objects in favor of shifting perspectives on four-dimensional objects in spacetime. But such a view, if taken metaphysically seriously, entails a tenseless theory of time which comes with a very high and, I think, unacceptable, price philosophically and theologically.

    I like the ‘adopting’, as though there’s a choice.

  8. 8
    colnago80

    Re #7

    Well, Martin Gardner didn’t understand the twins paradox either and wrote much nonsense about it.

    The mistake that many commentators make is that they neglect a key word in Einsteins special theory of relativity. They quote Einstein as saying that all frames of reference are equivalent. He said no such thing; he said that all inertial frames of reference are equivalent.

    The answer to the twins paradox is absurdly simple. Consider a pair of identical twins born within a few minutes of each other. Place one of them on a rocket ship and accelerate it up to, say 95% of the speed of light at a rate of 32 ft/sec which will cancel out effects of acceleration time dilation during acceleration. This will take about 6.5 months. Continue the trip at the 95% velocity for a period of time and return, decelerating at the same speed for 6.5 months. The twin that remained on the earth will be older then the twin on the rocket ship due to velocity driven time dilation. There is no paradox because the rocket ship is not an inertial system and thus the two frames of reference are not equivalent. The notion that the time difference is somehow made up during deceleration, which a few uninformed people claim is rubbish. Time dilation was first seen after the invention of the synchrotron when fast muons accelerated to a few percent of the speed of light were seen to have longer lifetimes then slow muons.

  9. 9
    Rob Grigjanis

    @8:

    The answer to the twins paradox is absurdly simple.

    Yeah, Minkowski sums it up nicely;

    (ds)^2 = (dt)^2 – (dx)^2

    The minus sign pretty much ensures that the accelerating twin ends up younger than the sedentary one.

  10. 10
    cafink

    I thought it was a pretty good debate. The main issue I had was that both speakers, but Craig in particular, spoke in highly technical language about physics and cosmology, to an audience that I don’t think was quite that familiar with either subject. The most egregious example is when Craig invoked something called the “Boltzmann brain” in defense of the fine-tuning argument, without really explaining what it is. Carroll gave a cursory explanation during his turn, but it was brought up repeatedly throughout the debate, and while I eventually came to a basic understanding of the argument, it was still too far over my head for me to meaningfully consider the argument.

    But there was still plenty that I did understand, and I thought Carroll did an excellent job holding his own, and possibly even besting, someone who is easily among the strongest debaters that Christian apologetics as to offer.

    Something that stood out to me was when Craig characterized Carroll’s model of the multiverse as entailing that the universe simply “pop into existence.” Craig continued to use that phrase in subsequent rounds, with barely any recognition that Carroll has specifically repudiated that characterization. It emphasizes something that’s been clear to me from listening to past Craig debates, that he has a script and he tends to stick to it.

    Another thing that impressed me about the debate was the quality of the audience questions during the question-and-answer session at the end. They were almost all thoughtful questions that elicited meaningful and interesting responses. There was also very little rambling or lecturing from the audience, which I find can often be a problem at events like this. The moderator had explicitly warned the audience beforehand that they would not be permitted to lecture, but I find that even that sort of warning is usually ineffective. But it turned out not to be an issue here.

    Overall, it was a fun if sometimes frustrating debate, and I am very glad to have attended.

  11. 11
    Mano Singham

    @cafink,

    Thanks so much for this. It has made me more determined to see if the debate can be accessed.

    I know a little about Boltzmann’s brain but am not sure why Craig would think it is an argument in his favor. I think it may be yet another example of him combing the literature for something esoteric that few understand and so may be persuaded that he really knows this stuff.

  12. 12
    Ceres

    “not sure why Craig would think it is an argument in his favor.”

    I think Carroll advanced the multiverse scenario in response to the fine-tuning , and that the multiverse generator and the observer selection effect would explain it. Craig said that the Boltzmann Brain problem meant the universe generator would produce more Boltzmann brains than life-permitting universes.
    Carrol responded the the BB problem only applied to certain multiverse models and his multiverse model didn’t produce more BBs.
    I don’t know if you’ve read Craig’s work , but I think he certainly does know his stuff. His recent Craig and Sinclair paper has a lot of stuff on modern cosmological models including the carroll -chen model.

  13. 13
    Mano Singham

    @Ceres,

    Could you please provide me with a link to the Craig-Sinclair document you refer to?

  14. 14
    biologosfan

    Its published in the blackwell companion to natural theology
    William Lane Craig and J.P. Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”, in “The
    BlackWell Companion to Natural Theology”, Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, ©
    2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-405-17657-6

    Maybe there’s a copy in the library?
    Looking at his publication list it seems to be his most recent kalam defense.

  15. 15
    Ceres

    His most recent one is in
    William Lane Craig and J.P. Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”, in “The
    BlackWell Companion to Natural Theology”, Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, ©
    2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-405-17657-6

    maybe a nearby library has it ?

  16. 16
    Ceres

    FWIW I don’t think Craig s intentionally lying or trying to twist anything or trying to dodge anything (like people have been saying in the comments) . And FWIW Vilenkin has corresponded with Craig and said that Craig accurately represented his work on quantum cosmology and the BGV theorem . I’m familiar with Craig’s published work , and I know how he would respond to Carroll’s criticisms (I think every one of them has been brought up in the literature by someone else).
    I think they just have differences in how they interpet the evidence as Carroll said in his reflections. There are guys like Vilenkin who think the evidence right now for the best models says the universe began to exist. And guys like Guth who think the evidence right now says there are good models where the universe is eternal. Craig acknowledged the tentativeness of the evidence and how we can never be certain in the debate , but I think he’s fair when he claims the evidence supports the models that do have a beginning.

    of course I’m biased , but so is everyone.

  17. 17
    Mano Singham

    @Ceres,

    I thought that the Craig-Sinclair paper was criticizing the Carroll-Chen model on physics grounds, in which case it would have been worthy of being published in a peer-reviewed physics journal. Although I have not read it (I’ll see if I can find it but my university library does not stock it) the fact that it appeared in a theology book suggests that they are not presenting an original physics argument but again picking out quotes from physics papers.

    I have no doubt that Craig has theological arguments against the model but when Carroll says that Craig’s understanding of the physics (not the theology) is wrong, you have to respond in terms of the physics involved. As far as I am aware, Craig does not have the training in cosmology to do so. I do not know who James D. Sinclair is and have not been able to find out what his knowledge of cosmology is. Do you happen to know?

    p.s. In the debate Carroll acknowledged Vilenkin’s view and that he and Guth disagreed with it. This issue is not yet settled and there are many models out there, with some being past finite. What Carroll was objecting to was Craig implying that the physics seems to require that the universe definitely was past finite when there is no such consensus.

  18. 18
    Ceres

    I didn’t mean Craig has carried out original cosmological research himself into the models. He uses information already published in physics journals. They’re not theological arguments as such. (I actually may have spoken too fast. Rechecking my copy , I think the chapter mentions inflationary cosmologies, which I think Carroll’s model would fall under , but not Carroll’s in particular)

    James Sinclair studied cosmology and has a masters in physics.

    From his statement , I don’t think Craig was saying the physics “required” a beginning. He was saying more to the effect of the evidence confirms the models that do have a beginning over the ones that don’t/

    Sorry if I misled you about the paper. I mostly commented here because it seemed that people were implying that he was ignorant of the physics or being dishonest and I don’t think he is from what I’ve read.

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