I’ve been catching up on my podcasts and I recently listened to a dialogue between an atheist, Lawrence Krauss, and a theist, John Lennox on questions about science and faith. It was on the Unbelievable? program (something I strongly suggest you listen to weekly) [listen here]. Thus, it was less a debate than it was a moderated discussion. Here, I’ll only focus on a couple questions that came up in their dialogue.
How and Why
According to Lawrence Krauss, science cannot answer “Why” questions but only “how” questions. Lennox brought up the example of a Ford motor car sitting on a driveway [I added this last bit for clarity]. He argued that one can explain the “how” it got there but there still remains the question of “why” it was made. Thus, the “why” questions remain “real” questions whether or not science is capable of investigating them. Interestingly, Krauss took a different tact than I expected in his rebuttal: he argued that the “why” question (at least in the Lennox case) is reducible to a “how” question. That is, one could explain how Henry Ford designed it, had it built, and then someone bought it and drove it to where it is sitting.
But of course redefining terms does little to address the actual questions at hand. Lennox was keen to show that questions about “why” are indeed meaningful. It seems that Krauss’ only response is to either say “no they’re not” or redefine actual “why” questions into “how” questions and argue there still are no “why” questions. The move is not very subtle, nor is it successful.
Purpose in the Universe?
Krauss made several comments regarding purpose in the universe. First, he seemed to suggest that in order to assert the universe has purpose, one must know what that purpose is. Second, he argued that the universe is indeed quite wasteful if it were intelligent designed with purpose. Third–in response to Lennox’s statement that Krauss and other cosmologists admit that for life to exist there would have had to be several generations of stars (to produce enough carbon for carbon-based life)–he alleged that there could be all sorts of other life forms we don’t know about. I’ll address these each briefly in turn.
First, it seems clear that if one wants to suggest the universe has a purpose, one does not have to know what the purpose is. We can see this all the time in our own interactions with the world. Suppose I see a pile of blocks on the floor in an office building stacked in piles of various heights and arranged by color. I can immediately recognize that there must have been some purpose behind it–for the arrangement by color is quite telling–but I may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason. Perhaps some five-year-old was amusing herself by stacking blocks by color. Perhaps an adult was making art by stacking them in that way–a kind of reminiscence on childhood. There could be any number of other reasons. But the fact that I don’t know the reason doesn’t mean there is no reason. Similarly, I may claim the universe has a purpose even without claiming to know what said purpose is.
Second, Krauss seems to make the error that if the universe were designed for humans, that would have to be the only purpose involved in the entire universe. I’ve addressed this claim in some detail elsewhere, so for now I’ll just say that Krauss’ mistake lies in assuming that if there is a purpose behind the universe it must be the only purpose.
Third, Krauss missed the point of Lennox’s rebuttal. For the life we are dealing with is clearly carbon based. For Krauss to stretch the question to possible scenarios of non-carbon based life is to miss the thrust of his own argument. He was asking for purpose in this universe; he was not asking for purpose in any possible universe. Thus, his statement is off base. Moreover, I tend to agree with scientists like Iris Fry and the like who agree that it is implausible to suggest life could be based on silicon or other things apart from carbon. That is a debate that would take us far afield, so I’ll leave it at that.
Science Doesn’t Care About Philosophy
Lennox, towards the end of the discussion, pointed out that Krauss’ claim to define nothing as something is nonsense. Krauss’ response? He jettisoned philosophy immediately: “Science doesn’t care about philosophy,” he said [he may have said “Scientists don’t…” but after listening to it a few times, I couldn’t tell which he said]. If you don’t see a problem with this, you should. First, the statement itself is philosophical. Second, any number of claims he made throughout his discussion with Lennox were philosophically grounded. Third, science depends upon philosophy to operate. Fourth, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, Krauss’ own work is directly dependent upon philosophy.
Documents Aren’t Evidence
Krauss said that documents don’t count as evidence. His assertion was based upon the notion that a book like The Great Gatsby is a document, but it is not taken as factually true. Apart from purely begging the question regarding the genre of the Bible alongside The Great Gatsby, Krauss is also severely mistaken in his claim that documents aren’t evidence. According to Krauss’ claim, we should essentially dissolve our government, because our system of government is based upon a document: the Constitution. But the Constitution cannot count as evidence for anything! So this begs the question: why should we go to it to see whether or not Lawrence Krauss should have freedom to express his vitriol against religious people?
The problem is that Krauss is just wrong here. Documents do count as evidence. One needs to acknowledge the genre, intent, etc. regarding a document, but for Krauss to utterly dismiss documents as evidence is absurd. One may ask whether Krauss wrote any books. He could, presumably, produce documents to show that he did indeed write books. But on his own standard of proof, he hasn’t presented any evidence whatsoever. Thus, on Krauss’ definition of evidence, I conclude that Krauss has never written anything.
There is much more that I could interact with in regards to this conversation between Krauss and Lennox, but I’ll leave it for now with the comments I have. I suggest readers go listen to the dialogue themselves. It seems to me clear that Krauss continues to flounder in areas outside his expertise. He misused the notion of an “appeal to authority” when he applied it regarding Lennox’s citation of Nagel, he continued to make errors regarding non sequitors, he dismissed his own books as evidence that he wrote anything, and his comments on purpose betray a lack of reflection on the topic. Krauss continues to show that he is basically ignorant of even the implications of his own claims.
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Shoulders of Giants? -Philosophy and Science in Context, or “Krauss Jumps off!”– I argue that Krauss is mistaken to claim that philosophers know nothing. I further argue that Krauss’ own work is dependent upon philosophy, so he ironically (ignorantly?) dismisses the very basis for his work.
William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss- Thoughts and links– I summarize and analyze a debate between Lawrence Krauss and the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. I think this debate was devastating to Krauss’ positions regarding his atheism.
Follow this link to access the audio for the dialogue between Lennox and Krauss.
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I struggled to get through the debate as Krauss wouldn’t stop talking long enough for Lennox to respond
Yes, Krauss isn’t exactly known for his ethics when it comes to debate method.
Agreed as demonstrated by his constant interruptions and rude mockery of WLC while WLC was attempting to present his POV.
He definitely does not offer the same respect that was shown towards himself to his opponents …Krauss is the quintessential obnoxious atheist/naturalist.
Because Krauss is a scientist, and deals in logic, so he knows what he is talking about. WLC is a philosopher, and deals only in concepts not logic, or he wouldn’t rely so much in special pleading fallacies to prove his god exists.
Frankly, this comment reveals ignorance. I’m using that word in the technical sense meaning that the author of this comment is not aware of the facts. Logic is a branch of philosophy. This comment is nonsensical.
No, logic is the foundation of philosophy, for without the absolutes of reality, and our observations of it, philosophy wouldn’t exist
Look, I’m not going to go beyond this because this is just plain mistaken. Just a search in a dictionary would have revealed that logic is a branch of philosophy. (I’ll do it for you: “In the West, logic was established as a formal discipline by Aristotle, who gave it a fundamental place in philosophy.”; “1. (Logic) the branch of philosophy concerned with analysing the patterns of reasoning by which a conclusion is properly drawn from a set of premises, without reference to meaning or context.”)
So the comment here is exactly backwards if the implication is that someone who studies logic automatically “knows what he is talking about.” From your comment, it follows WLC knows what he’s talking about. But of course this is fallacious reasoning anyway.
I’m not going to allow more discussion on this point because it is so clearly incorrect. There’s nothing more to say on this topic. The comment is wrong. It is mistaken at a very basic level. Moving on.
Why is irrelevant because it supposes there is a purpose. It’s possible that their is no purpose. I believe Krauss has made that point, and yet this article fails to address that. I can’t stand one sided biased arguments. When someone who is commenting on a debate fails to mention any key things that another person said, it’s quite possible there is a good reason other than that person being wrong ” 100 percent” of the time.
I agree but i felt like Krauss was making timely interruptions when Lennox was making irrational or nonsensical claims
This is a great response to Krauss’ point about carbon:
“Third, Krauss missed the point of Lennox’s rebuttal. For the life we are dealing with is clearly carbon based. For Krauss to stretch the question to possible scenarios of non-carbon based life is to miss the thrust of his own argument. He was asking for purpose in this universe; he was not asking for purpose in any possible universe. Thus, his statement is off base. Moreover, I tend to agree with scientists like Iris Fry and the like who agree that it is implausible to suggest life could be based on silicon or other things apart from carbon. That is a debate that would take us far afield, so I’ll leave it at that.”
Carbon plays a special role in life chemistry – it’s the hub that other atoms plug into. No other element can fill that role.
Well the problem with the fine-tuning argument is that it presumes carbon-based life-forms. The point that Krauss was making is that it is illogical to say that life would not occur with other constants. Lennox was seemingly saying is that the specific finetuning of the universe caused life and no other constants can do that. Lawrence was saying that that is an overstatement and also that life might simply be a corollary of the universe because of the evident lack of abundance of it.
Three things came from this debate that were not addressed, and thus I don’t believe either are qualified to debate the topic.
1. Without a how, why cannot be addressed.
2. With only one example of a universe, even a guess of other possible universes is irrelevant.
3. Even if it were absolutely known the universe was created, the creator STILL cannot be known, much less the identity of said “creator”.
Thanks for the comment.
Regarding your points: 1. I think that this can simply be granted without any real change to the arguments at hand; 2. this is fallacious because we can very easily observe something once and then provide not just guesses but actual predictions regarding similar events. Moreover, philosophically speaking a possible world is very clearly something we are capable of discussing, so I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “irrelevant” here when entire systems of thought are capable of investigating possible worlds; 3. what principle are you invoking to suggest it is impossible to know a creator of the universe? It seems to me you’re just issuing an a priori dictum without any evidence to support it whatsoever.
1. Not if the why isn’t answered before the how, or who.
2. No you can’t, since it requires a pattern to predict, or guess. The universe’s start is the only one we have experience of. Philosophy isn’t science. “Possible” worlds aren’t experience of actual worlds, so opinions are irrelevant since they cannot be verified or falsified.
3. To “know” any creator of universes, you have to first be able to verify the being actually DID create the universe, so to claim knowledge of a creator IS claiming a priori dictum without evidence to support it whatsoever.
Use this to illustrate the point. What is the difference between an honest salesman, telling you a car is in perfect condition, and a dishonest salesman telling you the same? The only people who know which is which are the salesmen, and those “above” them that know about the car.
Your religion claims your god created all things, which they cannot know, there is an afterlife, which only the dead can verify, and that your god is “good”, which is known only to those on the level of gods or above.
Are you claiming to know more than a god?
That’s the thing, Jeff. You CAN know the creator of the universe. He revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ and he continues to reveal himself through his Word and the Holy Spirit. That’s what sets Christianity apart from all other religions. It’s all about a personal relationship with the Lord.
Again personal credulity, since you cannot possibly know that as fact. You can believe what you want, but you cannot claim to know as much, or more, than the god you claim to “know”. Sorry but that is fact.
Hi, thanks for the piece. Whilst it may be possible to claim the Universe has purpose even if you don’t know what the purpose is, would it be fair enough to ask if after a while you might actually be able to come up with one? I would like to think that after philosophising about our particular Universe for many thousands of years, some particular reason might be given? I’m guessing that there are great philosophical reasons why this should not be so, it does though after a while get a bit tiring to be constantly fobbed off when this question is asked. Is this a fair position to take do you think? I can’t help but think philosophers will still say the same thing in another four thousand years 🙂 Kind regards.
The question you’re asking is itself flawed, however, because as I showed in one of the posts I linked to in this article, it is certainly possible God created the universe for humans; but it is equally possible that (like us) God could have multiple ends in mind when it comes to creation. Moreover, it’s not that no Christian philosophers think we can know the purpose of the universe; several arguments have been made for why God created the universe, from Calvin to David Bentley Hart and beyond. There are plenty of proposed reasons.
My point in this post is not that we can’t know the reason. My point was that Krauss is simply mistaken for thinking that if we don’t know the exact reason for something, it must be without a reason.
Thanks. Lets ask a question that is not flawed then and should be pretty easy for you to answer. What is the purpose of the Universe? Regards.
Well, considering that I’ve already said I don’t think there is “one” reason for the universe, I’m not sure why you insist on making me answer a question which essentially begs the question against my position. However, the most simple answer would be that the purpose for the universe is to glorify God. That’s an answer which has existed since Augustine (and probably before). It’s not like these are tough questions that no one has bothered to think about. My point, again, is that I do not think there is “one” purpose or reason; moreover, I also do not think the question is terribly relevant.
Suppose we didn’t know the purpose for the universe. What is therefore implied?
Of course, I’m not saying the question of purpose is not a “tough question”… what I am saying is that it’s not as though, as it was painted with your first comment, no one has come up with a way to answer the question. Whether you take it as a good answer is a completely different question. And, as I said already, my point was specifically in regards to Krauss, so this is all, essentially, a red herring anyway. Interesting, but distracting.
Cheers for the reply. I guess my reason for insisting was to make things as simple as possible for me to understand and I appreciate your at base reply. I guess its the world I inhabit in which you just ask people what they mean, and we got there in the end. Keep well, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.
Given your religious views, I am not surprised this turned into a Krauss bash session. The beauty of science is things change. What we thought was possible can change in a instant. We are always finding new discoveries and that’s what keeps life going. What’s the purpose of doing anything if we already know what the answer is? People use the bible likes its an owners manual to your life. Creationist “scientists” have stated that if science proves the bible wrong, they will go with what the bible says. What kind of logic is that? Why would you believe something that is wrong? Why should I believe in an ancient religion where women are held in low regard? Where beating slaves is acceptable as long as you don’t kill them? Stoning disobedient children? Talking snakes? Sending a bear to eat children? Man living inside a whale? A flood that is impossible and that story is ripped off of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Where the story of Genesis contradicts itself as to what order everything was created in? Why should I believe in a god where children starve to death? Where children get cancer? Where women get raped as your god stands by and lets it happen? These are few of the questions I want answered.
“Given your religious views, I am not surprised this turned into a Krauss bash session.”
I will just as easily say “Given your anti-religious views, I am not surprised your comment turned into a bash the Bible session.”
Was expecting a little better from you than that J W even if you think Keith is way off the mark.
It’s called “poisoning the well.” Keith’s comment front-loaded a reason to reject anything I say: “Given your religious views…” What reason have I to respond to that? Moreover, it was essentially just a series of questions which are far afield of the topic at hand.
And, think about it, why did you “expect better”? Is it because the answer I gave is unsatisfying? Of course it is! That was exactly my point. The comment essentially dismissed my arguments by saying “You’re religious so you’re wrong. Now answer these 10 questions.” I’m looking for engagement with the arguments I’m making.
Your topic was “Always Have a Reason”. I’ve seen many discussions Dr. Krauss has had with many people and never saw anything unethical as you suggested in an earlier post. You don’t understand what we says because you dismissed his views from the very start. I could have overlooked everything if there was a balance of being fair to both sides. I’ll have no problem believing that there is a god, just always have a reason as to why I should and prove it.
The tagline for my site is “Always Have a Reason.” The topic of this post is the dialogue between Krauss and Lennox. As such, restricting comments to the topic at hand would be helpful. You wrote, “You don’t understand what we [sic] says because you dismissed his views from the very start.”
This is a claim you have made. Can you demonstrate it with an argument? Show me how I misinterpreted what was said. Contest a point. All you’ve done so far is dismissed everything I’ve said. Thus, my conclusion is that the only thing you reject is my religiosity; not the arguments offered.
First, let me apologize for the typo (it should have said “he”, not “we”). Second, the paragraph before your conclusion section is off base wherr you claim Krauss is just plain wrong on saying documents don’t count as evidence. True, the Constitution is a legal document where we are entitled to certain freedoms. But, I can also go to my computer and make a document stating that I’m a certified life guard. Being as I’m not a life guard, the false document would be evidence that I am. Your thoughts would make the Qur’an an actual document and we would have to believe in the Prophet Muhammad and flying horses and however many virgins waiting for us when we passed. You have to take any “document” on a per case basis. You can’t just blurt out someone is wrong and not expect some kind of push back. When you are in a public forum, you have to be fair to both sides.
My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. The past couple days have been quite busy.
You argued that I am “off base” when I claim that Krauss is “just plain wrong” when he said that documents aren’t evidence. However, you went ahead and noted that the Constitution can count as a document to ground certain claims. Thus, you actually acknowledge the very point I made: that documents may count as evidence. You agree with me that Krauss is mistaken.
Next, you claim that my thoughts “would make the Qur’an an actual document…” Well of course they do. Do you deny that there exists a such a document, the Qur’an? If you do not, then I have a bridge to sell you.
Then, you continued by saying that “we would have to believe in the Prophet Muhammad [etc.]…” were we to hold the Qur’an is an actual document. But again, the Qur’an is, of course, an actual document. The question is whether its claims are true. But that’s exactly where Krauss (and it seems you) messed up: he simply dismissed, a priori, the notion that a document can count for evidence. The difficulty is not with the notion that documents can serve as evidence per se; the difficulty is with the claims of individual documents. We should evaluate each document to see whether its claims are accurate.
Again, you claimed that “You have to take any ‘document’ on a per case basis.”
That’s exactly my point. Because you agree with me, you apparently disagree with Krauss. That is, you acknowledge that documents may count as evidence. Krauss said explicitly that they do not. Thus, you’ve granted my point, and you’ve even made my additional point for me: that documents do need to be judged by their content. Krauss, on the other hand, blithely dismissed documents as evidence without argument.
I am glad, however, that we do agree on these points.
Not un satisfying at all really but I’d have written something along the lines of….Sorry you feel that way. You’re right those things are in the Bible, however they might bear a little more time looking at than you do in your post. You might like to do this and then get back with one or two that we can look at…Its good you like to engage but be aware of becoming like those you may ” argue with”. I mean well.