Saturday, April 20, 2013


'The God Argument' - Peter S. Williams vs. A.C. Grayling

I recently debated the existence of God with the well-known neo-atheist Oxford philosopher A.C. Grayling on Justin Brierley's Unbelievable (Premier Christian Radio).
To hear the full debate visit:

Here's a YouTube video of our discussion of the design argument from cosmic fine-tuning:

(I didn't know they'd be video recording our discussion. If I'd know, I would have dressed smarter!)

This section of our debate has generated some on-line discussion (e.g. here & here) and was picked up by some blogs:

Jonathan Mclatchie, 'British Atheist Philosopher A.C. Grayling Is Confused About Intelligent Design'

Mike Keas, 'Confusion about how Fine-Tuning Implicates Intelligent Design: British Atheist Philosopher A.C. Grayling'

Concerning Grayling's observation that his parents and grandparent's etc. had to have meet in order for him to be born, he admits on page 80 of The God Argument that this is 'a retrospective observation', which amounts to admitting that his grandparent example isn't analogous to the independently specified complexity of cosmic fine-tuning.

Here's a YouTube video of our discussion of the Cosmological Argument:

Peter Byrom kindly gave me permission to reproduce here an e-mail he sent in to Justin Brierly's Unbelievable following the broadcast:

Dear Justin,

Very glad you were able to get A.C. Grayling onto your show, though it is odd that he appears to have suddenly re-discovered an interest in theistic arguments: When you invited him to debate William Lane Craig in 2011, he dismissed the whole discussion of arguments for God as "an empty prospect", but now apparently they're worthy of a whole new book called "The God Argument"!

But onto the discussion itself: it was astonishing to hear a Professor, who charges £18,000 tuition a year, exhibiting such fallacious and sloppy reasoning. I counted at least six invocations of the genetic fallacy: where Grayling tried to undermine inferences to God, agent causation (and even the principle of causation itself) by repeatedly claiming that humans are psychologically and historically pre-disposed towards them. So what? This does nothing to address the argument.

In fact, when invited to respond to Peter S William's critique for why you do not need an explanation of an explanation, Grayling had nothing else to offer other than the genetic fallacy! I encourage listeners therefore to do an experiment: listen to the show again, but omit every instance where Grayling says something like "it's very natural for us humans to infer this, because..." or "that's a very egocentric way of seeing things", and see what you're left with!

As for the specific arguments:

Teleological: Grayling admitted he would draw a design inference from Peter S William's analogy of the cash machine... so why not the fine-tuning of the universe? The most Grayling could do was fixate upon the alternative analogy of the contingent events which led up to his birth, but this was simply not an example of specified complexity: the existence of AC Grayling as opposed to some different human life, does not conform to an independently given pattern in the way that the existence of human life as opposed to a lifeless universe doesThis blog post by Jonathan Mclatchie goes into brilliant detail on why Grayling is confused here, and I recommend it to all listeners:

Furthermore, Grayling was content to say "we exist, that's a fact, and that's just the way it is"! Apart from this being a disturbingly incurious statement, Grayling then made a completely illogical leap: claiming that "we exist, that's just a fact, therefore it's due to chance". But how does that follow? The same would be true of our existence if the explanation were physical necessity or design. So Grayling was simply plucking his preferred explanation out of thin air.

Grayling also doesn't appear to be up to speed on the problems with multiverse models (lookup the criticisms by Roger Penrose especially). But even if there were an infinity of all possible outcomes in a multiverse, Grayling would have to face the problem that there would be an infinity of universes where somebody enters the correct PIN code for his bank account by sheer chance, and an infinity of universes where the words in Grayling's books arise out of no intelligent cause! ;-)

Cosmological: Grayling persistently side-stepped the inference to a necessary being in the most school-boyish manner: he seemed to think he could undermine the idea of a necessary first cause of the universe by calling it "Fred", but that is mere semantics! What matters is not what you call something, but the properties of what that being actually is. An englishman will say "dog", a frenchman will say "chien", but they're still referring to the same thing (it's called "ontology", Professor)!

Grayling then contradicted himself on multiple counts: he said it was meaningless to invoke an uncaused first cause, then offered naturalistic versions of "uncaused first causes" (even going further to offer logically contradictory "self-caustion"); He said reality may be different to what we can comprehend, then complained God was incomprehensible; he said we humans cannot get our heads round things not being caused, then complained that God would need to be caused! He demanded an explanation for God, but not for the universe; he even went so far as to describe the question "why is there something rather than nothing" as a meaningless question, and compared it to asking "why is 3 greater than 2"... but the irony is that there IS a meaningful answer to that question: NECESSARILY EXISTENT mathematical axioms!

Moral: This one was simplest (and most simplistic) of all. Grayling said that facts about human flourishing serve as a basis for objective moral values, but this is nonsense: those descriptive facts do nothing to prescribe the obligation that humans ought to flourish! It was also telling that he had no response to the "horn-splitting" Euthyphro Dilemma resolution... as if he'd never even heard of it.

In all, Grayling's arguments were horrendous, yet he has an unnerving rhetorical talent for dressing up sheer lack of curiosity as some kind of sophisticated, academic virtue. Do not be fooled!

In short, if you're AC Grayling:

- the existence of life "is just a fact",
- the existence of the universe "just is, with no explanation",
- and human flourishing "just is good".

...And yet Grayling is renowned for quoting Socrates' saying "the unexamined life is not worth living"?

Noted Christian philosopher Keith Ward reviews A.C. Grayling's The God Argument here.

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