Just the Facts, Ma'am!

There was a recent debate and discussion series held in Brisbane, Australia between Dr. William Craig and Professor Lawrence Krauss.  Those of you who read this blog regularly may recognize Dr. Craig from some of my past posts.  He is a philosopher and Christian apologist.  His opponent for this event was Prof. Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist - and also a staunch atheist.  Both men are highly acclaimed as academicians, and both are usually fairly entertaining to watch.  The question of the evening was: 'Has Science Buried God?'  

I am not certain why I still find myself drawn to these dialogues.  Most of the time they seem to devolve into two people from opposite ends of the continuum trying ardently to change each other's mind.  In other words, what begins with the historical and empirical facts can often end up in a stalemate of opposing worldviews.  What I noticed about this particular dialogue between Craig and Krauss was that "the facts" themselves played very little part in the evening's event.  Let me explain.  Some of you reading this may remember a television show from the 1950's called Dragnet.  It starred Jack Webb as police Sgt. Joe Friday, a tough no nonsense street cop who was famous for using the phrase "just the facts, Ma'am" while interrogating some of his female witnesses.  Sgt. Friday was incessant about getting to the bottom of the matter and finding out who actually committed the crime, and how they did it.  He was unwavering and incorruptible.  In fact, he almost reminds me of the honest and hardworking character Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'  Both characters represented an attempt to portray uncompromising truth and honesty.  Both - in their own rites - were fictional American icons.

I thought of Joe Friday often while listening to the debate in Brisbane.  I felt like repeating his catchphrase many times.  Most of Krauss' points seemed to hinge on emotional arguments that stem from an apparent disconnect between human suffering and a loving God, and roughly one third of his presentation seemed to be an attempt to impugn Craig's personal character.  Craig,  in turn, was forced to spend much of the talk defending his character, as well as the character of God himself.  Nothing much was said about Science burying God.  In fact,  it was more or less an exercise in the justification of good and evil.  Morality seemed to take center stage in this debate, not string theory or the cosmological constant.  Krauss even had with him a small electronic buzzer with which he would make noises during Craig's presentation whenever he felt misinformation was being presented.  It was very, very strange.  

I suppose my point is this: I have perceived a recent shift within the atheist movement that appears to be much more concerned about validating morality, than about disproving God.  I believe Krauss is a fair representation of this latest strategy.  We are past "just the facts" now as they pertain to science or history, and well on our way to searching for meaning through morality and the human condition itself.   In many ways this is refreshing, but in some ways we are back to square one.  Krauss (and many like him) seem to be saying, "okay I'm ready to address moral principals now, just don't tell me that God has anything to do with those principles."  In other words, I know the difference between right and wrong ... I just can't explain how I know something is truly "right" yet (apart from personal preferences and personal experience).  No one would ever admit this, but there it is.  And if you point this out, be prepared for an emotional backlash!   It is akin to telling someone who just purchased a brand new car that the dealership neglected to inform them that there wasn't an engine under the hood.  The car may move, but only if it goes downhill - and you have to have someone behind it pushing the entire time.  

Why does this bother me?  Why would it have bothered Sgt. Friday?  I think it means that certain groups have migrated into the realm of staying an unbeliever at all costs, and then moving forward in an attempt to justify their current way of life without the God that they so despise.  Now remember that the argument here isn't that people who don't believe in God cannot be moral or good - we know they can.  This has never been the real issue.  As Craig points out in Brisbane, the true problem is that we cannot uphold an objective morality as existing apart from some type of Deity or supernatural force.  Let's face it: good and evil didn't evolve through natural selection or a series of biological accidents over millions of years.  These concepts are more than just choosing to live a certain way or a particularly charitable lifestyle.   The meaning of 'good' goes beyond the physical action of being good.  It has a higher calling.  Jesus knew this, which is why he often pointed out that giving to the poor and offering your time and energy wasn't enough if your heart wasn't in the right place.  

I suspect many who attended that discussion in Brisbane went home thinking much the same way they did when they first arrived.  In fact, I'm not so sure that this dialogue would have changed many hearts at all.  Oh well, at least they weren't hurling fists at each other.  It would have been interesting to replace Krauss' little buzzer with a pre-recording of Sgt. Friday's voice.  How many times would that machine have uttered his catchphrase that evening I wonder?  "Excuse me sir, can we get back to the facts at some point?"  But do factoids and poll numbers really matter that much when we discuss how someone ought or ought not to live?  It's up to you to decide.   

If we have truly entered the realm of discussing what is just and moral with the New Athiests, I am okay with that.  But remember, even it it were possible to successfully define the terms moral and immoral without invoking a God - a moral person could still act in an immoral fashion from time to time.  The problem then becomes what is it behind these terms that are over and above the action of doing good itself?    And I think this is often where both sides throw up their hands and give up.  Because if we have made up our minds already that we cannot be bothered with God, then we are forced to look for deeper meaning in our lives from sources other than the one from whom all meaning comes.   We will forever be unhappy and dissatisfied.  People like Sgt. Friday who call us out regarding these issues, will do nothing except annoy us greatly.  I have a feeling this is why Krauss brought the buzzer in the first place.



  1. I've always wondered about the premise behind these debates. How well do the debaters know each other and the arguments each will propose? What is their relationship before and after the event? Many times, I feel that each of the presenters is merely in a contest to score points that will make their fans feel better, rather than stimulate dialog and understanding.


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