[LINK] Sean Carrol’s reflections on his debate with WL Craig on “God and Cosmology”

I pre­vi­ously men­tioned this de­bate a month ago and pre­dicted that Sean Car­roll is un­likely to do very well. The de­bate hap­pened last Fri­day and Sean posted his post-de­bate re­flec­tions on his pop­u­lar blog (the full video will be posted soon). Some ex­cerpts:

I think it went well, al­though I can eas­ily think of sev­eral ways I could have done bet­ter. On the sub­stance, my ma­jor points were that the de­mand for “causes” and “ex­pla­na­tions” is com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate for mod­ern fun­da­men­tal physics/​cos­mol­ogy, and that the­ism is not taken se­ri­ously in pro­fes­sional cos­molog­i­cal cir­cles be­cause it is hope­lessly ill-defined (no mat­ter what hap­pens in the uni­verse, you can ar­gue that God would have wanted it that way). He defended two of his fa­vorite ar­gu­ments, the “cos­molog­i­cal ar­gu­ment” and the fine-tun­ing ar­gu­ment; no real sur­prises there. In terms of style, from my per­spec­tive things got a bit frus­trat­ing, be­cause the fol­low­ing pat­tern re­peated mul­ti­ple times: Craig would make an ar­gu­ment, I would re­ply, and Craig would just re­peat the origi­nal ar­gu­ment.

The cos­molog­i­cal ar­gu­ment has two premises: (1) If the uni­verse had a be­gin­ning, it has a tran­scen­dent cause; and (2) The uni­verse had a be­gin­ning. [...] My at­ti­tude to­ward the above two premises is that (2) is com­pletely un­cer­tain, while the “ob­vi­ous” one (1) is flat-out false. Or not even false, as I put it, be­cause the no­tion of a “cause” isn’t part of an ap­pro­pri­ate vo­cab­u­lary to use for dis­cussing fun­da­men­tal physics. [Em­pha­sis mine]

The Aris­totelian anal­y­sis of causes is out­dated when it comes to mod­ern fun­da­men­tal physics; what mat­ters is whether you can find a for­mal math­e­mat­i­cal model that ac­counts for the data.

Sean goes over a cou­ple of mis­takes he thinks he made in the de­bate, ba­si­cally be­ing blind­sided by WLC bring­ing up ob­scure pa­pers and mis­in­ter­pret­ing them to suit his ar­gu­ment.

Sean’s re­flec­tions are very de­tailed and worth read­ing, though I found them hard to sum­ma­rize. It looks like WLC did his home­work bet­ter than SC, but it’s hard to tell whether it mat­tered un­til the video is made pub­lic and var­i­ous in­ter­ested par­ties gave their feed­back. Another cou­ple of quotes, with my em­pha­sis:

For my clos­ing state­ment, I couldn’t think of many re­sponses to Craig’s clos­ing state­ment that wouldn’t have sim­ply be me re­it­er­at­ing points from my first two speeches. So I took the op­por­tu­nity to pull back a lit­tle and look at the big­ger pic­ture. Namely: we’re talk­ing about “God and Cos­mol­ogy,” but no­body re­ally be­comes a be­liever in God be­cause it pro­vides the best cos­mol­ogy. They be­come the­ists for other rea­sons, and the cos­mol­ogy comes later. That’s be­cause re­li­gion is enor­mously more than the­ism. Most peo­ple be­come re­li­gious for other (non-epistemic) rea­sons: it pro­vides mean­ing and pur­pose, or a sense of com­mu­nity, or a way to be in con­tact with some­thing tran­scen­dent, or sim­ply be­cause it’s an im­por­tant part of their cul­ture. The prob­lem is that the­ism, while not iden­ti­cal to re­li­gion, forms its ba­sis, at least in most Western re­li­gions. So — maybe, I sug­gested, ten­ta­tively — that could change. I give the­ists a hard time for not ac­cept­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of mod­ern sci­ence, but I am also happy to give nat­u­ral­ists a hard time when they don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the enor­mous task we face in an­swer­ing all of the ques­tions that we used to think were an­swered by God. [...]

To me, Craig’s best mo­ment of the week­end came at the very end, as part of the sum­mary panel dis­cus­sion. Ear­lier in the day, Tim Maudlin (who gave an great pro-nat­u­ral­ism talk, ex­plain­ing that God’s ex­is­tence wouldn’t have any moral con­se­quences even if it were true) had grumped a lit­tle bit about the for­mat. His point was that for­mal point-coun­ter­point de­bates aren’t re­ally the way philos­o­phy is done, which would be closer to a So­cratic dis­cus­sion where is­sues can be clar­ified and ex­tended more effi­ciently. And I agree with that, as far as it goes. But Craig had a ro­bust re­sponse, which I also agree with: yes, a de­bate like this isn’t how philos­o­phy is done, but there are things worth do­ing other than philos­o­phy, or even teach­ing philos­o­phy. He said, can­didly, that the ad­van­tage of the de­bate for­mat is that it brings out au­di­ences, who find a bit of give-and-take more ex­cit­ing than a lec­ture or se­ries of lec­tures. It’s hard to teach sub­tle and tricky con­cepts in such a for­mat, but that’s always a hard thing to do; the point is that if you get the au­di­ence there in the first place, a good de­bater can at least plant a few new ideas in their heads, and hope­fully in­spire them to take the ini­ti­a­tive and learn more on their own.

Sean con­curs: “If we think we have good ideas, we should do ev­ery­thing we can to bring them to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.”

I hope Luke or some­one else will find time to watch the video once posted and give their im­pres­sions.