Friday, April 10, 2015

Sorry, Billy; You're Living in a Dream World

Everyone's favorite and most annoying fideist, William Lane Craig, has once again trotted out one of his classically moronic and dishonest arguments.  He proclaims that atheism negates the existence of something which, in fact, doesn't exist, but according to him, is required to exist because it'd be really cool if it did.  Therefore, Christianity is true because it proclaims the existence of something really cool in his mind...  proving once again that his mind is something that he is clearly out of.

According to this insufferable clown, life has no meaning without the existence of a god because the absence of a god eliminates an everlasting reward which means that life has no meaning.  This is of course, argued on his part by defining "meaning" exactly as what he chooses it to be.  It's particularly interesting, because he's not just trying to make an argument against atheism, so much as he is trying to make an argument explicitly for the value of his flavor of Christianity as opposed to atheism.  A large part of this recent article rests on the notion that the immortal and eternal rewards (and likewise,  eternal consequences in the opposing condition) is the sole mechanism by which value can be ascribed to life.  Of course, he's wrong in every possible way, but more than any other reason, he's wrong because the Christian lens is the only lens through which he can peer.  His entire enterprise of Christian apologetics is incurably circular because all considerations he has any inclination to offer are couched exclusively in Christian terms.

So where to begin?

Well, the basic thesis of Mr. Craig's argument begins like so...
If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.
To a certain extent, he starts his argument with one or two facts; There is the fact that there is probably going to be heat death. There is the basic fact that immortality of the soul is not something that atheists of my stripe accept to be real. That said, he seems to ignore Buddhism, which does accept the immortality of the soul while simultaneously denying the existence of any and all gods.  I don't think this is an oversight, but a deliberate omission, and I'll get into why a little later.  What is missing, of course, is how the absence of things like ultimate value/purpose/significance (even if they were valid concerns) is tantamount to absurdity.

Why should there be any worry about the ultimate fate of the universe?  If the actions of the individual hold no weight on the ultimate fate of the Earth and the Sun and the rest of the universe at large, then so, too, does that fate hold no weight on the actions of our lives in the here and now.  Because our lives are finite, that means we have finite time to make any impact.  Craig himself spends all of one single fraction of a sentence in his entire treatise in acknowledging that the actions we lead hold significance in reference to other connected events within the dealings of humanity, but still dismisses that value out of hand.  In dealing with Sartre's point of creating meaning for oneself, he prevaricates into claiming that Sartre is extrapolating to the entirety of the universe...  in other words, the only way he can argue against it is to strawman.

The most basic flaw here is one that lies in nearly all of WLC's arguments -- he universally interprets all things through a Christian lens.  The notion that there isn't any "absolute" meaning in life and the universe as a whole means, likewise, that even looking for it is an exercise in the absurd.  In Craig's view, however, his theology defines the existence of an infinite afterlife as axiomatic, and therefore, that which pushes divine reward into the realm of the absurd is the true absurdity.  In short, the entirety of this argument (as are damn near all of his arguments) against the null hypothesis challenge to his theology is inescapably predicated on the validity of his own theology.  You can't get more circular than that.

The other major flaw he seems to leave out as if on purpose is that things like value, meaning, and significance, are all things that are entirely dependent upon context.  Nothing has "value" without defining in what context it has value.  The value of some particular unit of currency is not something written in the laws of the universe, but into the laws of the land.  The significance that something has is defined by some relationship against other things.  There is simply no such thing as meaning/value/significance without a context in which those things apply.  Knowing WLC's pattern, the counterargument he would most likely make against this is likely to involve numbers.  For instance, he'll say that the quantities represented by the numbers "1" and "2" and so on are absolute. Moreover, because it's William Lane Craig, he wouldn't try to simply make this point, but bathe it in ridicule and mockery so that he can cast a shadow of doubt on his adversary and generalize it to the larger atheist community.  Unsurprisingly, it's a fallacy of equivocation;  the "meaning" and/or "value" referenced here are not the same type of "meaning" we talk about when referring to the "meaning of life."  Ironically, he demonstrates a good example of how meaning is dependent upon context.  The reason these quantities have "absolute" values is because they are representative values of something else which exists only in an abstract sense, which is entirely different from imputed value unto the thing itself, which is what we're talking about.  Again, I don't think Craig is too stupid to notice this; I think he's just too disingenuous not to play this sort of smoke and mirrors game.

Atheists are atheists by definition because they don't believe any of the concepts of infinite rewards by an infinite god are real.  When only the finite lives we live are perceived as real, then only the finite lives we live are perceived as valuable.  The only sense in which we achieve any sort of life after death is in the impact made on people and society at large around us.  The metaphorical immortality that the Mozarts and Newtons of the world have is the result of this.  The reason we care about things like justice and principles and art and science and procreation and politics is because this life and this world on which we live it is the only thing that is real, and therefore the only thing that could possibly matter.  Throughout WLC's many discussions on the matter -- though considerably less so in this particular blog post -- he does acknowledge that the impacts we have on the people around us and on society at large are real.  But for him, it's not enough because none of those things are infinite and absolute in the way a divine reward or retribution is, and without that infinite quantity, there's no point to life.

To try and drive this point, he uses a rather curious example --
I once read a science-fiction story in which an astronaut was marooned on a barren chunk of rock lost in outer space. He had with him two vials: one containing poison and the other a potion that would make him live forever. Realizing his predicament, he gulped down the poison. But then to his horror, he discovered he had swallowed the wrong vial—he had drunk the potion for immortality. And that meant that he was cursed to exist forever—a meaningless, unending life. Now if God does not exist, our lives are just like that.
He uses this to point out that immortality alone is not enough, but you also need a god to make it meaningful.  There is a blatantly obvious oversight here, and that is the point that the now immortal man is immortal and isolated from all of humanity.  It is not the absence of a god that makes said life meaningless, but the absence of anything with which he can make contact.  In one sense, though, this makes for a good example of how the afterlife in Craig's theology is necessarily meaningless.  Someone reaping the rewards of the afterlife has no capacity whatsoever to affect anything around him.  Such a person cannot affect humanity or the universe because they will spend an eternity apart from it.  Such a person will also not experience anything, but merely be locked in an endless cycle of droning praise of the Christian god (at least, assuming we're talking about Heaven as the Bible itself defines it).  What actually is that absolute meaning or purpose that he proclaims is so important?  How are you to put primary significance on it if you can't even define it?

In practice, there is no such thing as absolute meaning or significance or whatever even within Craig's preferred theology because it is actually a meaning defined within his god's own perspective, meaning it can't be absolute or objective because it is in fact, limited to the point of view of one individual entity, however mighty that entity may be.  The only possible defenses against this are to suggest that Yahweh does not possess a subjective persona (a contention which is at odds with all of Judeo-Christian mythology) or to redefine what "objective" or "absolute" means such that Yahweh is the absolute.  Again, given Craig's track record, he's likely to do the latter, and in doing so, more firmly establish the circularity of his argument.

That said, I would prefer to highlight the fact that Craig's obsessive focus on the infinite rewards of the afterlife demonstrate the extent to which his theology is exactly the attitude that rids life of all meaning.  In short, it is "God" that makes life worthless.  How?  By shifting the focus away from a life well-lived to attaining a worthwhile afterlife.  Instead of putting the value on the things we do in our lives and finding meaning within life itself, the source of all meaning is beyond life.  The only thing of significance is that which comes after life.  Oh, sure, your actions within life apparently count for what afterlife you receive, but because the afterlife is the ultimate purpose of life, it is the afterlife that receives the attention.  In the end, this sort of attitude creates a life that is little more than an admissions process into the university of Heaven.  Real, though it may be, it is a blip compared to the infinite joy of the beyond.  So long as there is a god that proffers an infinite reward after death, then the reward is of infinite value, and the finite road to that reward and all the trappings thereof are of finite value at best, and therefore insignificant.

If this sounds like a cheap turnaround, let me point out to you that my interpretation is indisputably superior to Craig's for a simple reason -- it is backed up by hard fact.  This sort of approach to religion is something that is actually decreed as correct according to Judeo-Christian screeds.  "Love not the world, nor anything in the world"...  "He who loves [his family] more than me is not worthy of me"... and so on.  Sure, there are those who would argue that that is not the interpretation of their faith that they follow, and this may well be so.  But can we find anyone who does interpret their faith this way?  How about the members of the Heaven's Gate cult?  How about all the suicide bombers who looked forward to paradise and their 72 virgins?  How about all the people who cast aside their worldly trappings because they fell for some "rapture" charlatan?  Okay, but those are extremists, right?  Well, how about the people who actively push for policies to help advance the occurrence Armageddon because they look forward to Jesus' return?  That is actually a very large contingent of the population.  A 2012 Reuters poll puts the figure at just over 40% of the voting public who at least believe this crap.  How about the the people who see fit to marginalize LGBTs and trod upon women's rights because they feel the existential cost in the afterlife is more important than the well-being of certain groups of people in real life?  How about all the fundamentalist Hindus out there who proclaim that bigotry across caste lines and social "anomalies" like homosexuality are necessary ills in order to ensure a better next life.  These aren't tiny, insignificant populations.  This is a very seriously large contingent of religious people, and a very loud one at that.

And this group includes Craig himself, as well.  This much is clear from this treatise among others; especially his infamous rationalization of the genocide of children as an "infinite good."  Because atheism necessarily eliminates from life the particular value, purpose, and meaning that he seeks, he proclaims that it doesn't have any whatsoever.  Because there isn't a divine reward in the afterlife when you remove the supernatural, that to him necessarily makes life "objectively meaningless."  That, by the way, is not a twisting of his words.  He made that twist on his own.  Sure, he begins by referring to the lack of an afterlife showered with the rewards of Yahweh's salvation as being "without objective meaning", but then later as he progresses through the post, changes the wording to "objectively meaningless".  These two are not the same thing, but the audience to whom Craig panders would not be all that quick to notice it.  He also doesn't do it in a fell swoop, either, but phases it in over several paragraphs.  At about the midway point, he tries to reiterate his thesis like so --
The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.
Now, I have to put this challenge towards Craig.  I brought up examples of exactly how belief in a god is exactly what makes life worthless, and how believing in what he posits as the only possible source of worth as the very thing that undermines the value of life.  I brought up examples that I'm sure he'll try and twist in his intellectually dishonest way that ranged from the minor cult mentality to the pervasive in our current climate.  However, Craig speaks as if his conclusion, which is framed in Christian terms as if they apply to reality is an inevitable and inescapable conclusion of his god's nonexistence.  Can he find that bearing out in reality?  Can he find a single individual isolated incidence of a mature self-described atheist who actually approaches the question of life's worth in the way that he says absolutely must be true?  I'd wager that he would sooner search for a way to weasel out of that shortfall than he would even attempt to find an example.

The more likely truth of atheists is that they state that the very idea of teleology is wrong, and so even looking for it is absurd.  Because value and meaning are context-dependent, an internalized point of view is the context they use to define said value and meaning.  I'd contend that not only atheists, but moderate believers all find meaning by deciding for themselves based on their own personal values, priorities, and preferences.  No atheist even considers trying to seek out purpose in the universe, let alone extrapolating their own individual meaning and value to the universe at large as Craig seems to insist all atheists must be doing.  The notion of absolute meaning is nonsensical to begin with, and the fact that there exists religion that tries to impose such a thing by fiat is further evidence that religion just gets everything wrong.  Value judgments aren't something that can even exist in an absolute scope.  Craig's own wordy prattling never really escapes the fact that his idea of "objective" or "absolute" purpose and meaning are all just statements that purpose and meaning defined by his god is "objective" because the point of view being exercised is that of his god.  But if it was truly "objective", then having a personal entity like a god would not be a factor, but according to him, a personal god who imposes a purpose of his own design is the necessary component by which objective purpose can exist.  In fact, when including other arguments he has made, he technically contends that "objectivity" itself is something that can only exist in a divine framing.  How it makes sense that "God's" purpose is objective when it is actually a personal intention of an entity is due to a lot of mixing of terms.  Craig uses words like "infinite", "absolute", and "objective" more or less interchangeably throughout this post...  This way, he can hide an "objective" in the form of an "absolute" which itself is only "absolute" in the sense of being decreed by an "infinitely powerful absolute authority" figure.  This is the sort of misleading turnabout that simply would not fly in academia.  And if you wonder why I've never referred to William Lane Craig as "Dr. Craig," this is why.  While I don't discount the effort and dedication to academic rigor on his part in pursuit of his Ph.D, that intellectualism has since evaporated, and every single apologetic he offers in his post-doctoral career has proven him unworthy of the honorific.

I mentioned at the beginning the extent to which the man makes numerous lies of omission.  It is a bit difficult to imagine that someone of his credentials would not be aware of the fact that Buddhism is ostensibly godless, and yet has an actual absolute goal of attaining Nirvana over the course of however many lives it takes.  Even his audience, by and large, would probably be aware of it, but not very cognizant of it at any given time.  What is easy to forget is that Craig is not writing anything that he writes on his site in the interest of being rigorous in his arguments, but in preaching to the crowd.  When he openly lies in debates, he is not interested in the formal etiquette of academia and opening honest discussion, but in utilizing the particular format of debates to his advantage.  His strawmanning and twisting of his opponents' words and even occasional mockery and insult are all meant to elicit a reaction so that the opponent ends up wasting time addressing Craig's prevarication and having less time available to actually make their own points.  On the web, of course, Craig doesn't really have that advantage, so lies of omission sprinkled with deceptive language are the main line of offense.

He never actually addresses the possibility that people who don't believe in a god don't believe in "ultimate purpose," and seek an entirely different range of purpose.  He leaves out that there are religious sects that don't believe in a god, and still have an entirely different "ultimate purpose" for life and the universe.  He never actually addresses objections that one would have with the very validity of the purpose he demands.  He never actually considers the possibility that people might not give a damn about the fate of the universe, and rather prefer to focus on the here and now that is real.  It's not that Craig doesn't know better;  It's that actually acknowledging a single alternative possibility would expose the weaknesses of his arguments.  Now, if it was intended to be a meaningful effort in the interest of academic publication, he knows that he'd never get away with that.  This is on his own blog, and looking at all things through a Christian lens is something that his audience anyway does.  They would not miss any of the lies of omission or see through the distortions of actual thoughts that people have conferred on the subjects.  Most of them aren't really even aware of his references to Sartre, Nietzsche, Skinner...  or even Waiting for Godot.  That last one was a really peculiar choice on his part, because anybody who has seen or read the play would know that it quite strongly alludes to the absurdity of Christianity within a godless context...  and somehow Craig turns this around to mean that it shows that nothing whatsoever makes sense without a god.  This sort of deception is something he particularly well-versed in.  When he lies, he doesn't just lie as blatantly as some of...  he crafts lies that demand a considerable volume of work and/or literacy in a subject to expose the dishonesty.  He creates changes in meaning that are well-hidden enough that one would have to pay attention right down to the word in order to catch it (which indeed, most people would not).  About the only reason I do catch it is because I expect this much from him, and I've never once been disappointed.

Well, that's really a poor choice of words on my part.  William Lane Craig is always a disappointment.  His very existence is a message that even the best that Christian apologetics has to offer is little more than a polished turd.  Like all apologists, he's living in a dream world while proclaiming that waking up is stupid.