Lewis Wolpert and William Lane Craig on Religion

I found this brief exchange between Lewis Wolpert and William Lane Craig on Religion to be very interesting:

Craig: On the one hand, I don't think it's true that we should only believe what we have evidence to believe, but then on the other hand, I think there is, in FACT, good evidence for the existence of God.

Commentator: How'd you come to the conclusion that you should believe something you can't actually see evidence for?

Craig: There are many of our most BASIC beliefs for which we have NO scientific evidence. For example...There are many of our most BASIC beliefs for which we have NO scientific evidence. For example.. . . the reality of the past, the existence of the external world, the presence of other minds. All of these are what philosophers call "properly basic beliefs." They are rational beliefs to hold but there's no way you can prove that the world was not created, say, five minutes ago with built in memory traces and food in our stomachs with a breakfast we never ate.

Wolpert: Are you seriously suggesting that the world could have been created before we came in this morning? Come on, you can't be serious!

Craig: I'm saying that there's no way you can prove SCIENTIFICALLY that the past is real, that the universe didn't come into existence five minutes ago with an illusion of age or that other minds exist.

Wolpert: I can't take that...this is philosophical nonsense. I'm sorry.

Commentator: How do we know that other minds exist?

Wolpert: Well, I think you've got another mind. You seem to be rather similar to other human beings. I have no doubts that you have another mind. These aren't BELIEFS. This is a microphone in front of me. This is not a belief. This is about knowledge in the real world.

Craig: I agree that we should believe these things. I think they are rational to believe, but you can't prove them on the basis of evidence.

Wolpert: Well you CAN touch them - I mean you can touch the microphone. There it is.

Craig: Yes, but if you were a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated with electrodes by a mad scientist to THINK that you're having the illusion of this microphone in front of you, your experience would be INDISTINGUISHABLE from the experience of an external world. Our belief in the reality of the external world is not a scientific belief. This is a properly BASIC belief. Or, another analogy, if you were a body lying in the matrix as in the film then your experience would be identical with the experience we have so there are all sorts of very FUNDAMENTAL beliefs about the world which we're perfectly rational to entertain but which cannot be justified by the scientific method.

This exchange between the two of them reveals the differences between philosophers and scientists. I understand Craig's arguments, having used them before myself.

The question in Craig's mind is why he needs scientific evidence for God when we believe things that have no scientific evidence either way. For instance,I might be dreaming right now. And Craig is quite right to point these things out.

Wolpert responds as a scientist who speaks about evidence and probability, and I think he's correct to do so.

But here's the rub. While Craig is correct that it's possible that God exists even if there is no evidence, Wolpert is right to ask to see the evidence. While Craig is right about what is possible, Wolpert is right to talk about what's probable. No matter how long Craig wants to talk about what's possible, he still has to present the evidence...the scientific evidence. No matter how long he wants to speak as a philosopher he must eventually speak as a scientist. He still must talk to the scientist about the evidence in the only terms he will accept, and that's the probability of something existing based upon the evidence.

In Craig's defense, if there is no evidence for something either way, then we simply have no way to assess whether or not it exists. He is arguing that we just cannot say either way. The probability factor is equalized.

But come on. Does Craig really think it's probable that his brains are in a mad scientists vat somewhere? To prove something is possible doesn't get us very far, since there are a great many things that are possible that have no plausibilty. How can he assess the claim that green gremilins stabilize the smallest particles of the universe? Possible? Yes. But if he has to resort to what is possible so many times in his arguments, something is indeed lacking when it comes to the evidence for his beliefs. For if the evidence was overwhelming, he would no longer have to talk about what is possible so often. Think about this, and you'll know exactly what I mean.

17 comments:

Jae said...

"Does Craig really think it's probable that his brains are in a mad scientists vat somewhere?"

I think the point is that we can't possibly assign a probability to this. The probability is unknown to us. Saying that its low, or high is nonsense considering our context.

Its nice to see Craig saying something that I don't think is ridiculous.

Enlightened_Individuality said...

But here's the rub. While Craig is correct that it's possible that God exists even if there is no evidence, Wolpert is right to ask to see the evidence.


Now wait a minute. Shouldn’t we ask how Craig comes by his concept POSSIBLE? Ought we not consider what the concept POSSIBILITY rests upon? For me the concept POSSIBLE rests upon the concept EVIDENCE and the concept EVIDENCE is the result of a process of awareness. I don't see how one can say that it is "possible" for God to exist if the concept possible requires some kind of evidence.

To prove something is possible doesn't get us very far, since there are a great many things that are possible that have no plausibility. How can he assess the claim that green gremlins stabilize the smallest particles of the universe? Possible? Yes. But if he has to resort to what is possible so many times in his arguments, something is indeed lacking when it comes to the evidence for his beliefs.


What Craig wants us to accept is the validity of logical possibilism as a means of arriving at truth. - a common philosophical exercise - but it’s deductively circular:

1. If circumstance x obtains, then theory T is true.

2. We cannot show that x obtains.

3. But we will show that x is possible by means of a thought experiment.

4. Consider the proposition describing x, namely, 'x'.

5. If 'x' is not self-contradictory, then x is possible.

6. But of course 'x' is not self-contradictory.

7. Therefore, x is possible.

8. So T is true.

There is only one way to show that "X" is impossible i.e. show that it is not self-contradictory - this means that there is no way to show its impossible and we must accept the idea or claim as true.

Craig must already assume that the claim is possible which results in begging the question. Statement five switches the word possible for self-contradictory - it ought to read "if X is possible then X is possible.

Craig may have fun dancing around in philosophical possibilism all he wants to but if finding truth is our goal then it seems that Craig must do more than beg the question - he must provide EVIDENCE. This requires that Craig show HOW he arrives at the concept POSSIBLE – more importantly I think he must show HOW he arrives at ALL of the concepts he is using in the above in order that we might pull his philosophical science fiction experiments back down to earth.

In the above statements I have taken it for granted that a person positing philosophical possibilism is after truth in some way. Craig is not even after that. What he wants is for us to eschew reason as a process and accept a mind-body dichotomy like he does. By doing this we fall into his trap and begin to wonder how we might prove him wrong. We can’t – we must accept reason as a process of identifying particular aspects of "what is."

dolio said...

Perhaps one cannot assign a numeric probability to the scenarios. However, the brain in the vat is clearly not the parsimonious hypothesis.

Either you are a brain in a body, interacting with the real world, or you are a brain in a vat, and the world you experience, in all its fidelity, is being simulated on a device in the actual real world? Well, the latter contains all the entities that the former does (roughly speaking; they're simulated in one case and not in the other), but the latter posits some additional, unnecessary and unobservable entities on top of that.

So, by abduction/Occam's razor/whatever, we conclude that we are not brains in vats.

And belief in other minds? Every day you see hundreds or thousands of beings that look similar to what you see when you look in a mirror, and they act very similarly to you, and communicate with you using a language you understand and so on. So the best explanation for that is that you are one in 6 billion, and everyone else lacks a mind? I don't think so.

I suppose I could grant the brain-in-the-vat thing since tons of people love that example, but just declaring belief in other minds properly basic seems pretty lazy to me, and on the way to simply declaring whatever you don't want to argue for as properly basic, which is, I suppose, great for apologetics, since one can just declare god so, and in defense, say that solipsisms isn't logically impossible.

Jae said...

" For me the concept POSSIBLE rests upon the concept EVIDENCE"

can you talk that out abit?

Jae said...

"So, by abduction/Occam's razor/whatever, we conclude that we are not brains in vats."

no, we don't...or we shouldn't. I'm afraid this is not a sound philosophical move.

I think your confusing the question.

It may be "best" (if you mean pragmatic?) to belief that we are not brain in vats and that others indeed have minds...but we can not reason our way to declarations of probable or not.

Steven Carr said...

Why doesn't Craig have a properly basic belief that he is just a brain in a vat?

I can't work out from his words why he rules that out.

What reason does he have for saying it is 'rational' to rule out one of two explanations , both of which claims Craig , account for the evidence?


He must have a reason, but , and this is inexplicable, it has totally slipped his mind to say why he does not believe we are a brain in a vat.


Perhaps because such an explanation would involve evaluating evidence of some sort, and he is trying to get away with not evaluating evidence.

Steven Carr said...

Does Craig have a 'properly basic belief' that the supernatural really does exist, and that there really are demons who are capable of planting in his mind beliefs which are false?

Once you admit the supernatural, then it becomes rational to believe that there are demons who could arrange brains-in-vats....

Enlightened_Individuality said...

Evidence is a concept which denotes whatever "stuff" is provided by my means of awarness i.e. the senses. Evidence does not require a conceptualization process and can be in the form of implied knowledge. A conceptual awareness is the process of taking the evidence provided by the senses and forming a concept around the particular aspects picked out by the subject. By putting concepts in a particular order we can create statements regarding our experience of "what is." Possible refers to those statements regarding our experiences of "what is." In the case ofa brain in a vat, or that time just started 5 min ago or any other science fiction experiments one can think of - they are outside of the realm of a meaningful possibility. It was possible that an ether existed that allows particles to have a wave like appearance but know today the ether doesn't exist. These are two different ideas of what is meant by possible - one is arbitrary - devoid of evidence - one is meaningful - rests upon some evidence.

What Craig wants is for a person to diregard the process of awareness for a moment and consider a form of possibility which requires no evidence or process of awareness. Once we play the game we fall into the same vat which Craig's brain resides in. We cannot sever the concept possibility from the process which gives rise to it.

Jae'than said...

"Possible refers to those statements regarding our experiences of "what is."

Our experiences? or your experience?
Does that mean that something can be meaningfully possible for me, but not for you?

Enlightened_Individuality said...

"Possible refers to those statements regarding our experiences of "what is."

Experience in a broad sense covers not only conceptual awareness but also forms of awareness that are altogether different from our/my own. I don't know what its like to experience the magnetic field of the eath but there are some animals that seem to. I think we may be flip flopping over direct experience and the concept experience.

Does that mean that something can be meaningfully possible for me, but not for you?

Can you clarify this a bit more? Off-hand I would say it depends on what you looking at. My dad is color blind - that is not meaningful in the sense that I can directly experience his process of awareness. However, it is meaningful to me because I can study his means of awareness and determine that they are different from my own. Therefore my concept of "color blind" is meaningful to me because there is a condition in "what is" that gives rise to the concept "color blind" - its just that our places of observation are different.

Enlightened_Individuality said...

"My dad is color blind - that is not meaningful in the sense that I can directly experience his process of awareness"

Come to think of it - this doesn't matter. He no more knows what color blind is than myself because he doesn't know what it's like to see in color. The senses are the beginning of the process and give rise to distinctions. Experience is the integration of the process. When it comes to "color blind" both my dad and I would describe the same condition that exists in "what is." His experience is different from my own but we are both describing the same metaphysical condition.

Jae'than said...

are you saying that if someone/thing out there had experience/evidence that proved we were brains in vats it would be meaningfully probable?

Lee Randolph said...

Unless I have misunderstood something it seems that Craig has torpedoed his own argument for a god. By saying that brains in a vat are possible and saying that justifies the possibility of a god, he has set himself up to give all possibilities (including flesh and blood existence) the same weight. In this case he should see that he simply chooses to believe one over the other with no backing for any. Now rather than show why he believes in a god as a flesh and blood person, he has to show why he believes in a god even though he has committed to the possibility of the idea that could be a brain in a vat. In the case he is a brain in a vat that would mean he made up the bible, which is where he gets his validation for a god and he has to figure out why we all don't agree with him since we are creations of his mind. That seems to me to be a dilemma of biblical proportions.

Steve said...

From the exchange, I can gather that Craig's argument doesn't really support what he is saying at all. He keeps talking about the possibility of what we observe being just in our minds, and saying we can't scientifically prove that it isn't. This is true, but the belief that he is defending is the existence of God, which requires the assumption of a physical world, in which one can gather evidence, which is the same assumption science makes.

To state it simply: He is arguing against an assumption that science makes, but that he also must make to believe in God.(which in turn doesn't help his point much).

hmmm.. it seems I am echoing lee randolph in this comment. To bad I already wrote it.

Anyway, the whole argument is a rabbit trail, simply because it is not useful, even if the world is imagined by a brain in a vat. Simply it does not matter.

Steve

dolio said...

"So, by abduction/Occam's razor/whatever, we conclude that we are not brains in vats."

no, we don't...or we shouldn't. I'm afraid this is not a sound philosophical move.


What do you mean "sound" exactly? Do you mean that it's not the conclusion of a sound deductive argument? Or that it's just wrong?

It may be "best" (if you mean pragmatic?) to belief that we are not brain in vats and that others indeed have minds...but we can not reason our way to declarations of probable or not.

I mean it's the simplest coherent model of our sensory experiences. We can either model it as our being a human being within a larger reality, or we can model it as being a brain in a vat hooked up to a device that is feeding us experiences of a false reality.

Both models have the same power for predicting our experiences. However, one has, so far, some superfluous elements, in that our model is of a simulation within a larger reality, rather than reality itself. So, the model with extra entities is rejected, at least until our sensory experiences throw that into question (like if, somehow, the mad scientist hooks your brain up to see the 'actual world' and shows you your own brain in a vat).

Is this not a proper coherentist response to Craig's argument? One need not be a foundationalist, after all.

Kiwi Dave said...

The posts are all far too philosophically subtle for my poor brain. Paraphrased, the conversation seems to reduce to:

Craig: Because it's possible we are just brains in a vat, therefore it's possible God exists.
Wolpert: [Rolls eyes] Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

"No matter how long Craig wants to talk about what's possible, he still has to present the evidence..."

And I'm sure William Lane Craig would agree because he DOES present the evidence in his debate with Wolpert. You're focusing on a brief approximately 5 minute exchange and ignoring that he does just what you request (present evidence), in his many debates with atheists, including his one with Lewis Wolpert.