Thursday, 7 June 2012

William Lane Craig's Cock-Up.

Here's a fascinating example of how William Lane Craig tries to bamboozles his lay audience with highly technical arguments and how he relies on their ignorance and credulity to get away with it.

In this example he uses a statistical theorem which will be obscure if not unknown to his audience, Baye's Theorem, and purports to show that it 'proves' the resurrection of Jesus was hugely more likely than unlikely.

Unfortunately, as Dr Freed, who understands this stuff, shows, his method actually showed that the resurrection could also be shown to be almost impossible using precisely the same technique, and how Lane Craig either deliberately, or through incompetence, made a schoolboy error. No one in the audience appeared to notice the sleight of hand, or, if they did, they didn't have the courage to speak out.

Watch it now, and I'll discuss it more in a few minutes to see what conclusions we can draw about William Lane Craig and religious apologetics in general.

Okay?

Hallelujah! Er... or not.
So, by the simple trick of concentrating on just one variable in the equation, Lane Craig seems, to the uneducated, to show that the probability of the resurrection of Jesus actually happening approaches 1 (certainty).

However, his reason for choosing this variable seems to be because it gives the answer he wants, or at least the answer he wants his audience to believe. Had he included the other variable, as he should have done, he would have shown that the probability of the resurrection of Jesus being true approaches zero (impossible).

In fact, of course, you can play exactly the same trick with any mythical event and 'prove' it is hugely likely to have really happened, especially if your audience is credulous and eager to believe it.

So, what can we conclude here?

William Lane Craig has implicitly presented himself as an expert in maths and as someone who understands Bayes' Theorem, and his audience is suitably impressed with this. Here is a 'brilliant thinker, Christian apologist and mathematician' using maths to prove Jesus almost certainly rose from the dead, just as the Bible claims.

So, there are two possibilities here, neither of which are to Lane Craig's credit:
  1. He is as clever as his audience has been lead to believe, and he is deliberately misleading them.
  2. He is misleading the audience about his cleverness in order to fool them.
It is unrealistic to assume that William Lane Craig does not know his audience well, and knows what he can and can't get away with so we can be sure that either one or other of these deceptions was deliberate.

It actually matters not which. The effect was the same: to trick his audience into thinking they had just watched a very clever argument by one of the leading Christian apologists which proved that the resurrection of Jesus was almost certainly true. In fact, all they had witnessed was a trick worthy of any conjurer, snake-oil pedlar, or confidence trickster. Lane Craig knew well enough that the wool between their ears could be pulled down over their eyes, and he knew exactly how to do it.

There is one more thing that this tells us about William Lane Craig and his commitment to truth, honesty and integrity. He claimed, apparently in all seriousness, that Bayes' Theorem, as he presented it, was a compelling argument that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead just as the Bible says. Certainly his audience were convinced by it and he did nothing to disavow them them of that belief.

Why then, now the mathematical error has been pointed out, and Bayes' Theorem has shown, by Lane Craig's own method but without the school-boy error, that Jesus almost certainly didn't rise from the dead, is this suddenly not the evidence it once was? Why is William Lane Craig not touring the country showing how Bayes' Theorem refutes the Christian Bible and the central Christian dogma? He wouldn't be selecting his data would he?

Is this a seeker after truth at work, or a seeker after book sales, speaking engagement fees and TV appearance money?

No prizes for the best answer.

What of the audience?

Well, we know that none of them pointed out Lane Craig's error so either they lacked the maths to spot it or lacked the courage to speak out. One of the tricks religious apologists employ is the 'Emperor's New Clothes' trick. This depends on people either not speaking out because they either don't have the courage to go against the crowd - probably through fear of what the crowd might do to them - or because they persuade themselves that maybe it's they who have the problem; that they saw the mistake or deception but think they are mistaken because no one else has seen it, so they keep quiet rather than look silly.

In effect, it's a form of passive-aggressive mob bullying or peer pressure. One wonders how many people come out of a William Lane Craig lecture wondering to themselves why they couldn't follow the intricacies of his reasoning but agreeing with everyone else how brilliant had been his argument, how unarguable had been his conclusions, and how right they are to hold the 'faith' they've just had so brilliantly 'proved' true.

This is a very powerful trick to use on an audience and accounts, at least in part, for so many charlatans getting away with it so often. It's the same trick as is used by preachers and priests on their congregation and by dishonest politician on their voters.

Religious apologists almost invariably talk to audiences composed largely of people who agree with them already and who are there simply to enjoy a celebrity apologist 'confirming' what they already know and to share in that nice warm, self-affirming glow of a shared experience and sense of being part of the in-group. In other words, the audience is already receptive and keen to agree with the speaker. The last thing they are looking for is dishonesty and sleight of hand. Apologists almost invariably speak to credulous audiences eager to agree and have any little doubts dispelled. It's what they are buying and the apologist knows well what he's selling.

Further reading:
Fooling A Lot Of People All Of The Time





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3 comments :

  1. It requires faith to believe in the testimonies of the Christ resurrection and Craig gets off the hook far too lightly in debates on simple points like this. He needs to be outed publicly, unfortunately I don't think it can happen with an atheist academic as academics have a tendency to follow him into the abstract and lose the audience, who will then just fall back on their faith in Craig.

    Someone heavier handed who won't give him an inch on testimony would be great, someone with a bit of charisma too (hate to say it, but public debate replies on marketing your answer with the right tone and attitude, Craig gets an A on that).

    Craig is a phony, as phony as the evangelists. And as phony as the gospels he wishes us all to regard as evidence. A well researched phony with a monopoly on sleight of hand in debate.

    I hope Dawkins never gives him the satisfaction of a debate, unless of course the day comes when biological evidence points directly to a supernatural creator. Craig should spend his time on second accounts on Youtube arguing the debunk vids such the Kalam Cosmological which he relies on so heavily.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As Richard Dawkins said of debating with Lane Craig, "That would look better on your CV than on mine".

      The 'Wedge' strategy of the Christian neocons is simply to hold these debates, not to win them. They know they would gain kudos in the eyes of the credulous followers simply by sharing a stage with real scientists and philosophers. Their followers would then believe their arguments must have some sort merit because they are being taken seriously by science.

      Being regarded as a serious alternative to science, or even as a science in its own right, and sitting at the top table with real science, is the objective here.

      Delete
  2. Colin Connaughton27 January 2014 at 10:50

    As a former mathematician (I have an old PhD in maths but I have forgotten most of it) I have to disagree with the assertion that zero probability means the same as impossible. The term mathematicians use for zero probability is 'virtually impossible' which does not mean impossible. The event in question can still happen.

    As an example. Suppose one throws a very straight pointed stick up in the air to land on a flat floor. What is the probability of its landing at some given precise angle to the nearest wall? Obviously there is the possibility of its landing at any given angle and yet the probability of its doing so is zero. Why? Because the number of angles it can fall at is infinite and a precise pre-determined angle has therefore zero probability of the stick landing at that angle. This is basic university level maths and I am assuming a classical universe, which is allowed, into which quantum mechanics do not enter.

    The converse is true also, of course. A probability of 1 means 'virtually certain' but not 'certain'. The event could still fail to happen.

    I hope my rusty maths is still good enough for this point.

    ReplyDelete

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