Reality 1, William Lane Craig 0

I mentioned my favorite apologist punching bag William Lane Craig a few posts back when I was talking about the problems with apologetics, and while I was briefly at his site to copy the URL I couldn't resist the morbid urge to check out his latest ghastly Q&A section. Surely nothing could top his face-palmingly unfounded criticism of Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design or his horrid and convoluted attempt to defend God's demands of genocide. But this new one is pretty remarkable in how much inanity this beacon of Christian enlightenment manages to cram into such a small space. Read the whole thing if you dare:

Here's the question:

Dear Dr. Craig,
The existence of mathematical laws is included in your list of reasonable yet scientifically unprovable assumptions that we tend to make about reality. But aren't we proving these laws scientifically every time we use them to successfully calculate physical quantities?
Although proof of the mathematical laws would not tell us why they are here, where they came from, or why they nature adheres to them, we might say that mathematical laws are an accurate conceptualization of the way the universe behaves, or equally that the universe embodies mathematical laws.
Kind Regards,

What follows is a tangent about philosophical theories of "holism" and attempts to explain why they are inadequate. In the process, Craig rambles on in the way that only philosophers can do, but never actually addresses the reader's question. He seems to suggest, toward the end, that theories which are derived from mathematical equations do not actually prove the math correct when the theory is emprically validated:
Now the mathematical statements of science, precisely by being assumed by every scientific theory, belong to the background assumptions of those theories. The empirical confirmation of those theories therefore does not extend to mathematical statements. It follows, then, that the statements of pure mathematics which underlie scientific theories are not tested when these theories are tested and so do not enjoy confirmation as a result of the theory’s confirmation. 
Except this is wrong on its face, and it doesn't even begin to address the question. Mathematics underlying scientific principles are not assumed, they are observed. True, once they have been observed with some consistency, we assume them to apply everywhere; a fine example is the grand assumption of physics that the laws of the universe are the same everywhere in the universe. But these aren't unfounded assumptions – they're derived from and verified by mathematical observation. Most importantly, we accept such assumptions as provisional. When mathematical statements are inaccurate conceptualizations of reality, it will be confirmed as such empirically. Furthermore, Craig apparently fails to understand that for theories derived from mathematics, particularly in physics and theoretical cosmology, they are written, described, and falsified or verified using the language of mathematics; we can't separate the mathematical description of the theory from the colloquial one.

A consistent problem in Craig's reasoning – one that is common among theologians, I might add – is that he has the hubris to assume he knows what reality actually is. He believes that his intuitive experiences are the best gauges of what is real and what is not, as exemplified by his past statement that his faith is derived not from evidence, but by "witness of the holy spirit" as well as his paradoxical argument that God's objective moral law is understood through subjective intuitive experience. This is not the case. We do not have any way of knowing whether reality as we immediately experience it is the ultimate reality, and we should not be so arrogant and hasty as to presume that scientific discoveries out to conform to our understanding of reality, rather than vice versa. This highlights what is perhaps the biggest difference between a theist and an atheist: for the atheist, our concept of reality is both provisional and contingent on our best scientific understanding. A theist, by contrast, necessarily assumes his understanding of reality to be immutable.

Even Craig seems to realize that he didn't really answer the question, and finally gets around to it in the last paragraph:
You’re quite right that we may still ask why nature adheres to or embodies mathematics. On this score, I think that the theist enjoys a considerable advantage over the naturalist, whether one be a realist about mathematical objects or an anti-realist. As Mary Leng points out in her recent Mathematics and Reality, for the non-theistic realist, the fact that physical reality behaves in line with the dictates of non-causal mathematical entities is just “a happy coincidence.” 2 But the theistic realist can argue that God has fashioned the world on the structure of the mathematical objects. The anti-realist might say that mathematical principles “are an accurate conceptualization of the way the universe behaves,” so that there is no happy coincidence. Well and good, but what remains wanting on atheistic anti-realism is an explanation why the physical world exhibits so complex and stunning a mathematical structure in the first place. The theistic anti-realist, on the other hand, can maintain that God has constructed the world on the fictional blueprint conceived by Him.

And there it is – he closes his answer with an argument from ignorance and an infinite regression. At a certain point, whether we are theists or not, we must assume there is, at bottom, something whose mere existence does not require an explanation. To purport to answer a question like "Why does the universe have a structure which can be objectively understood through mathematics?" by saying, "Well, because God made it that way" begs the question of why God exists and why God has any particular set of qualities. The theist assumes that God does not require an explanation for his existence or qualities – that he simply is. However, as I've discussed countless times before, the laws of physics allow precisely that – for the universe itself to simply be, without any beginning or end, existing uncaused. Craig, like all theologians, doesn't actually answer any questions – he just pushes them back a step.

Seriously, this guy is supposed to be a preeminent Christian scholar and apologist, and his failure to grasp basic rules of logic is mind-boggling. I suppose that's what you get with a degree from Biola.


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