Debate Notes: Sean Carroll vs William Lane Craig

Last weekend, physicist Sean Carroll debated William Lane Craig at the Greer-Heard Forum (a program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary)

Clockwise from top left: William Lane Craig, Alex Rosenberg, Sean Carroll, James Sinclair, Robert Stewart (Greer-Heard organizer), Tim Maudlin, and Robin Collins. Screenshot by Maryanne Spikes.

Alas, no recording … yet. I did not watch this and was under the assumption that I could catch it the next day on YouTube … but no, the YouTube live stream went private. My guess is DVD sales first., then YouTube later.

Anyway, there are some insights to be had. For example …

OK, I’m going to cherry-pick a few bits from Sean’s notes … just a few crumbs that will (hopefully) temp you into reading it all – it truly is quite fascinating stuff.

First, from his viewpoint, how did it go?

Short version: 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).

… and of course Craig played his usual cards …

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. For example, he said that Boltzmann Brains were a problem for the multiverse; I said that they were a problem for certain multiverse models but not others, which is actually good because they help us to distinguish viable from non-viable models; and his response was the multiverse was not a viable theory because of the Boltzmann Brain problem.

Sean then proceeds to get into a lot of detail. Debate aside, the physics itself is fascinating stuff, and so if that is of interest then you should go read his notes.

Towards the end of his notes, Sean makes this very important point … a key one to remember when considering debates like this. Here Sean is talking about BGV theorem and observed that WLC likes to quote one of the authors (Vilenkin) but not the other (Guth) …

In Vilenkin’s opinion, the best models (in terms of being well-defined and accounting for the data) are ones with a beginning. In Guth’s opinion, the best models are ones that are eternal. And they are welcome to disagree, because we don’t know the answer! Not knowing the answer is perfectly fine. What’s not fine is pretending that we do know the answer, and using that pretend-knowledge to draw premature theological conclusions.

So who won? I suspect both sides will claim victory, but in the end that is not really what matters at all, and I believe Sean recognised that because he writes …

Events like this are valuable, not because they are efficient ways to find the truth, nor even because there is any reasonable chance of changing the minds of people who are relatively secure in their beliefs (on either side). It’s because there are a lot of people who are not secure in their beliefs, or at least are curious and willing to listen to a variety of ideas. If we think we have good ideas, we should do everything we can to bring them to as many people as possible. I think science and naturalism include some pretty awesome ideas, and I’m happy to share them with as many different people as I can.

Yes indeed, that is a really good reason for doing such debates.

So anyway, hopefully the actual recording will be available soon, because I’ll be really interested to watch (and learn)


10 thoughts on “Debate Notes: Sean Carroll vs William Lane Craig”

  1. @Matt

    That’s absolutely right, Craig selectively quotes as this very same article provided an example. Did you read the article? Being unware of it, as you are, is not evidence that Craig doesn’t. As for citations, well, you obviously haven’t been following Craig closely or long enough.

  2. William Lane Craig, it appears, will never debate Dr Jaco Gericke over the existence of the Old Testament deity, Yahweh. If he ever does he will be exposed for what he is, simply a great debater and nothing great after that. I find it silly he goes around debating cosmologist over the existence of a non-existent generic deity and tries to use the dusty Kalam argument in support. You could easily demonstrate Yahweh does not exist using non-philosophical arguments.

  3. Alan Flood,

    Watch all of WLCs debates to see how he selectively quotes everyone. He also refuses to debate Dr Jaco Gericke over the existence of the OT deity.

    • Oh is that right? Why not cite some examples. The only time i ever have seen this charge actually challenged in a an actual debate was vs Lawrence Krauss. Any other time I hear this charge, it is by internet intellectuals. In the case of Lawrence Krauss, he made this charge pertaining to William Lane Craig’s “selective quoting” of Alexander Vilenkin. It was so heated that Craig accused Krauss of showing of editing the email that Vilenkin had written to Krauss. Craig then proved that this was the case DURING the debate. Later, to settle the matter, Vilenkin wrote a public letter, declaring that Craig was in fact correctly representing his view points.
      Unless you have an actual citation, you’re probably full of it. This claim is getting old.
      Here are my citations, a letter from Vlienkin and the debate with Lawrence Krauss

    • Guth changed his mind since then. As Sean Carroll writes:

      “Chatter on Twitter reveals theists scrambling to find previous examples of Guth saying the universe probably had a beginning. Good scientists, it turns out, will actually change their minds in response to thinking about things”.

      • You misquoted Carrol. This is the actual quote and it clearly does not suggest that Guth had changed his mine at the time:

        “Chatter on Twitter reveals theists scrambling to find previous examples of Guth saying the universe probably had a beginning. As far as I can tell Alan was there talking about inflation beginning, not the universe, which is completely different. But it doesn’t matter; good scientists, it turns out, will actually change their minds in response to thinking about things.”


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