Monday, 18 May 2015

Evangelical Cosmologist Don Page critiques the Carroll - WLC debate

Cosmologist and non-theist Sean Carroll has recently featured a guest post from Don Page, a leading expert in cosmology and theoretical gravitational physics who is also an evangelical Christian. Page's post, framed as an open letter to both Carroll and philosopher William Lane Craig offering comments on their recent debate. Page, though a theist, offers an informed critique of apologetic staples such as fine tuning and the Kalam cosmological argument, critiques which really need to be kept in mind given (1) that they come from a world expert in cosmology (WLC, we need to remember, is a philosopher and theologian rather than a scientist) and (2) are coming from an overtly theistic viewpoint:
In summary, I think the evidence from fine tuning is ambiguous, since the probabilities depend on the models. Whether or not the universe had a beginning also is ambiguous, and furthermore I don’t see that it has any relevance to the question of whether or not God exists, since the first premise of the Kalam cosmological argument is highly dubious metaphysically, depending on contingent intuitions we have developed from living in a universe with relatively simple laws of physics and with a strong thermodynamic arrow of time.
Nevertheless, in view of all the evidence, including both the elegance of the laws of physics, the existence of orderly sentient experiences, and the historical evidence, I do believe that God exists and think the world is actually simpler if it contains God than it would have been without God. So I do not agree with you, Sean, that naturalism is simpler than theism, though I can appreciate how you might view it that way
 It is critical for us to be scrupulously honest with the evidence, and acknowledge what arguments are good, what arguments are useful but not compelling in isolation, and what ones should be abandoned. Page's impeccable scientific credentials as well as his theism mean that his criticism of some of Craig's positions come from an informed, friendly source and should therefore not be dismissed lightly.

I have long stated that my faith is based on the resurrection of Jesus, something that I regard as the best explanation for the evidence surrounding the formation of Christianity. On this point, Page is definitely worth quoting:
I mainly think philosophical arguments might be useful for motivating someone to think about theism in a new way and perhaps raise the prior probability someone might assign to theism. I do think that if one assigns theism not too low a prior probability, the historical evidence for the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus can lead to a posterior probability for theism (and for Jesus being the Son of God) being quite high. But if one thinks a priori that theism is extremely improbable, then the historical evidence for the Resurrection would be discounted and not lead to a high posterior probability for theism.
I would tend to argue the point differently - given that the resurrection of Christ in my opinion is the best explanation for the events surrounding early Christianity, I would assign theism a high prior probability. This also means that my position is falsifiable: if one can explain the events surrounding the death of Christ and the formation of early Christianity more plausibly without appeal to a resurrection, then my belief would be falsified. To date, I have found no such falsification.

Of course, given that the fringe view that Jesus was a myth is still kicking around, the odds were high that mythicists would descend on the forum. Turns out the first quote was from a regular commenter at Jerry Coyne's blog who is also a hard-core Jesus mythicist shows us why many in the New Atheist camp fully deserve their reputation for being intellectual lightweights:
I do believe you owe it to yourself to read Richard Carrier’s latest book, On the Historicity of Jesus. It is a peer-reviewed scholarly work that performs a Bayesian analysis of the evidence for Jesus and the events of the Gospel. And, despite it being of top academic quality, it’s also most readable and engaging.
I dare say you’ll find much cause to reevaluate your priors.
Mythicism is to history as YEC is to science; when even atheists and agnostics regard mythicists with embarrassment, it is fair to say that this belief system lacks credibility. As for Carrier's argument, outside of the rarefied atmosphere of the mythicists, it appears to have been received with something less than enthusiasm. There are genuine questions which an intellectually honest Christian needs to face. The existence of Jesus is not one of them.