William Lane Craig ...The 'Progressive Creationist?'

I pay attention to William Lane Craig mainly because he is known and respected as a foremost debater, Christian apologist, and theologian by a vast amount of theists. Personally, I don't understand all of the pomp and circumstance he receives because his arguments are riddled with logical fallacies. While I profoundly disagree with him, this is not why I think his philosophical skills are lacking. His fine-tuning argument, his Kalam Cosmological argument, his moral argument, and his arguments for miracles have been shredded to pieces time and time again. Previously linked are some of my responses to some of Craig's common arguments.

Every now and then, Craig debates and indeed 'wins,' but this is mostly because his opponents aren't philosophically trained, they don't budget their time well to respond to his arguments, or Craig throws fifty claims out there in ten minutes. If you want to listen to a great debate [in which Craig gets demolished], please listen to his debate with Massimo Pigliucci. It's well worth the listen. Craig surely has the debating skills, but his arguments, on the other hand, are very problematic.

William Lane Craig and other Christian apologists often attack atheists (especially Richard Dawkins) for 'arguing outside of their fields' when they attack religion. This usually takes place in the form of the 'courtier's objection' [you can't discredit theology because you haven't read the works of x, y, and z and you haven't read books a, b, and c! How can you dismiss Christianity if you haven't done these things! You need to study more theology because you attack a simplistic version of Christianity...] I've tackled this objection in a previous post. Craig, in a recent podcast of his and in an answer to a worried observer, attacks the 'neo-Darwinian paradigm' and argues outside of his field... Tu quoque Dr. Craig!

Here are some direct quotes from Craig's answer (first indented and then indented in navy blue) with some commentary. I reference various creible, scholarly sources through this post in order to supplement my arguments and because I'm not a biologist.

As I explained in my exposition of the Doctrine of Creation, when it comes to questions of the origin of life and biological complexity, biblical Christians enjoy the advantage over the naturalist of being truly open to follow the evidence where it leads.

How is a 'Biblical Christian' following the evidence to where it leads when they are presupposing that 'Biblical Christianity' is true? If they don't presuppose, why bother appealing to the naturalist vs. Biblical Christianity dichotomy anyway? Why can't we just follow the evidence where it leads instead of applying labels to the people involved?

...the question of biological origins is for me a straightforward scientific question: what does the evidence indicate about the means by which God brought about life and biological complexity?

Any scientific question with "by the means by which God brought about life" is not a scientific question.

My honest, layman’s assessment of the evidence makes me sceptical of the neo-Darwinian account and leaves me with a probing agnosticism about the theory. [...] The neo-Darwinian paradigm is a synthesis of two overarching theses: the Thesis of Common Ancestry and the Thesis of Random Mutation and Natural Selection as the means of evolutionary development. The evidence for these two theses is anything but compelling; indeed, the theory involves a enormous extrapolation from evidence of very limited ranges to conclusions far beyond the evidence. (emphasis mine)

Really now? Does Craig suddenly not accept evolution? He states that these two (and it's really not only two) 'theses' support evolution [they are the 'neo-Darwinian paradigm,' according to Craig] and then says that these are "anything but compelling." The evidence for common ancestry is not limited by any means. What in the world is Craig talking about here? I really hope I'm not understanding what he is saying.

We know that in science such extrapolations often fail (take, for example, Albert Einstein’s failed attempt to extrapolate a general principle of relativity that would relativize acceleration and rotational motion just as his special principle had successfully relativized uniform motion).

What, exactly, is the 'extrapolation' for this 'neo-Darwinian paradigm?' He keeps using this phrase, but fails to define what he means. We look at the evidence for evolution...and come to the rational conclusion that it happened. Who cares about what has failed or other theories? We're worried what is the best interpretation of the evidence NOW. Sure, we can be wrong, but if there's no good reason to suggest we are now, we can't just attack a theory by saying "Oh, look, scientific extrapolations often fail." The analogy comparing evolution of relativity (special and general) is also a bad one. As far as I know, and correct me if I am wrong, Einstein was trying to make predictions about phenomena outside of what was already known. Evolution isn't doing this at all with this 'neo-Darwinian paradigm.' Common ancestry, for example, gives us good reason, along with other evidence, to suggest that evolution is true. There is no extrapolation like using some principles of relativity to make predictions about other phenomena.

Such failures make very pressing the question: how do we know that the extrapolation from local instances of evolutionary development to the grand story of evolution is a valid one?

The 'failures' of Einstein have nothing to do with whether or not evolution is true. Here, perhaps, Craig makes sense of what he means by extrapolation...but there is no extrapolation and biologists don't use the phase "grand story of evolution." Here are plenty of examples of 'local instances' of evolutionary development. If Craig really thinks that this "science has failed in the past, so we should radically doubt science" argument is valid for science, wouldn't it also be valid for Christianity/theology? Many claims made by apologists in the past have been discarded and their extrapolations have failed...

You misconstrue the notion of microevolution when you equate it with the claim of the fixity of species. Steve, not even six day creationists, not to speak of progressive creationists, limit microevolutionary change to variation within species! [...] Microevolutionary change is simply change within certain vague limits, limits which fall far short of the wholesale development envisioned by the Thesis of Common Ancestry.

Microevolutionary change is not "simply change within certain vague limits."
More from TalkOrigins.org:

Microevolution and macroevolution are different things, but they involve mostly the same processes. Microevolution is defined as the change of allele frequencies (that is, genetic variation due to processes such as selection, mutation, genetic drift, or even migration) within a population. There is no argument that microevolution happens (although some creationists, such as Wallace, deny that mutations happen). Macroevolution is defined as evolutionary change at the species level or higher, that is, the formation of new species, new genera, and so forth.Speciation has also been observed.

Creationists have created another category for which they use the word "macroevolution." They have no technical definition of it, but in practice they use it to mean evolution to an extent great enough that it has not been observed yet. (Some creationists talk about macroevolution being the emergence of new features, but it is not clear what they mean by this. Taking it literally, gradually changing a feature from fish fin to tetrapod limb to bird wing would not be macroevolution, but a mole on your skin which neither of your parents have would be.) I will call this category supermacroevolution to avoid confusing it with real macroevolution.

Speciation is distinct from microevolution in that speciation usually requires an isolating factor to keep the new species distinct. The isolating factor need not be biological; a new mountain range or the changed course of a river can qualify. Other than that, speciation requires no processes other than microevolution. Some processes such as disruptive selection (natural selection that drives two states of the same feature further apart) and polyploidy (a mutation that creates copies of the entire genome), may be involved more often in speciation, but they are not substantively different from microevolution.

Craig says that these 'vague limits' fall short. He defines these limits as vague, although they are not, and then asserts that they fall short. Sure, his contrived idea of 'vague limits' might, but microevolution, while properly understood, does not 'fall short.' Microevolution alone doesn't give us common ancestry, so I'm not even sure why Craig would say something like that. Craig poses his own faulty definitions, strawmans his opponents, and then says that what his opponents present is not good enough (note: after he set the faulty definition to discredit his opponents, he then says that this is not good enough). Common ancestry is established through evidence and there are no 'vague limits.'

Notice that just the single phylum of the vertebrates (Chordata) includes all fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc. Seen in the context of the wider picture, typical examples of evolutionary change are seen to be microevolutionary changes. The evolutionary development of whales, horses, and elephants you mention are trivialities compared to the grand scenario envisioned by the theory. The transition from lower primates to humans is nothing compared to what the theory postulates on the grand scale.

The Chordata phylum is not microevolutionary change in the context of the wider picture. The phylum includes fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc... and so what? Phyla have to be separated. The divisions separating the different phyla are established by particular features of organisms. Why, because so many organisisms are in the Chordata phylum, should there be a problem? Here are the classifications for the Chordata phylum, in case you are interested. More can also be found on this website.

All chordates share four basic features.

Chordates derive their name from one of their synapomorphies, or derived features indicating their common ancestry. This is the notochord , a semi-flexible rod running along the length of the animal. In those chordates which lack bone, muscles work against the notochord to move the animal. All chordates have a notochord at some stage in their lives, but in some (such as tunicates) the notochord is lost in the adult, whereas in others (such as the vertebrates) the notochord is present in the embryo, but in later stages is largely replaced and surrounded by the vertebrae, or backbones.

The notochord runs beneath the dorsal nerve cord, which is another chordate feature. This is in contrast to organisms such as annelids and arthropods, in which the main nerve cord is ventral. The chordate nerve cord is hollow, with pairs of nerves branching from it at intervals and running to the muscles. The anterior (forward) end of the nerve cord is often enlarged into a brain.

Pharyngeal slits are a third chordate feature; these are openings between the pharynx, or throat, and the outside. They have been modified extensively in the course of evolution. In primitive chordates, these slits are used to filter food particles from the water. In fishes and some amphibians, the slits bear gills and are used for gas exchange. In most land- living chordates, the "gill slits" are present only in embryonic stages; you had pharyngeal slits at one time. The slits are supported by gill arches, which have also been highly modified in various groups of vertebrates.

Lastly, all chordates have a post-anal tail, or extension of the notochord and nerve cord past the anus. This feature is also lost in the adult stages of many chordates, such as frogs and people.

Other chordate features

Chordates also have a closed circulatory system, and most, but not all, chordates have a heart. The blood of most chordates contains the oxygen-carrying molecule hemoglobin. The muscles of the body are segmented into blocks called myotomes. Like their relatives the echinoderms, chordates are deuterostomes: in early embryonic development, the anus forms before the mouth.

You’ll remember my quoting Michael Denton to the effect that for a bat and a whale to have a common ancestor there should be literally millions of transitional forms, which are not there in the fossil record.

Craig's going really low here and starting to sound like Kent Hovind. It's an unreasonable demand and exception for one to want to see every transitional form or suppose that there should be much more than have been found today. Not everything fossilizes and fossilization is not particularly common. Many organisms are not 'suitable' for fossilization. Fossils may have been destroyed by erosion and other natural processes. Some evolution is quite rapid in the scale of millions of years, so there would not be a chance for fossilization. Fossil discovery is rare, not many people are searching for them, money needed for such explorations is difficult to come by, and some continents have not been excavated to the extent that others have.

There are, though, many transitional forms from various species. While there may be 'gaps,' there are no contradictions. The beauty of the theory of evolution is that its predictions have been confirmed time and time again establishing its fruitfulness (the ability to make novel predictions outside of what is already known by applying the theory). We expect a transitional form to be a certain way...and find a fossil later on that is exactly like we thought it would be.

Even the evolution of amphibians from fish or birds from reptiles is miniscule compared to whole tree of life postulated by the theory, for it still only involves evolutionary development within a single phylum.

That's one step, not the whole picture...and of course that is evolutionary development within a single phylum. So what? Some transitions will not suddenly 'break' from one phylum to another. Craig's really not understanding the idea of transitional forms here and/or is raising an issue where there is no issue. TalkOrigins explains.

A transitional fossil is one that looks like it's from an organism intermediate between two lineages, meaning it has some characteristics of lineage A, some characteristics of lineage B, and probably some characteristics part way between the two. Transitional fossils can occur between groups of any taxonomic level, such as between species, between orders, etc. Ideally, the transitional fossil should be found stratigraphically between the first occurrence of the ancestral lineage and the first occurrence of the descendent lineage, but evolution also predicts the occurrence of some fossils with transitional morphology that occur after both lineages. There's nothing in the theory of evolution which says an intermediate form (or any organism, for that matter) can have only one line of descendents, or that the intermediate form itself has to go extinct when a line of descendents evolves.

...what is the evidence that a bat and a sponge are descended via mutation and natural selection from a common ancestor?

There's molecular evidence and a unique, historical phylogenic tree among many other things. We're back to the basics here.

And now reflect that the above chart shows only some of the phyla within the Animal Kingdom, which is only a part of the domain of the Eukarya, which also includes the whole of the Plant Kingdom, and that in addition to the domain of the Eukarya we’ve also got the domains of the Bacteria and the Archaea to account for!

There are more charts out there, Dr. Craig, aside from the one you've shown us. These domains are indeed accounted for.

Clearly we’re dealing with a mind-boggling extrapolation from limited instances of microevolutionary change to conclusions that far outstrip the evidence. Caution certainly seems appropriate here.

Again, microevolutionary change doesn't stand alone amongst the evidence. Microevolutionary change is also not limited or, if you mean this in another sense, scientists do not only have a limited amount of documentation regarding microevolutionary change.

You complain that I mentioned only Archaeopteryx as a transitional fossil. But my purpose here was to provide an example from the fossil record for the most significant sort of transition afforded by the evidence. Most of the examples you cite are trivialities by comparison, for they don’t involve change across large categories. To mention them would only have weakened the case for macroevolution from the fossil record, which is what I was trying sympathetically to present.

Ok, great. Let's assume that the commenter here only listed 'trivial examples..." there are many more examples out there that show change across large categories. Mentioning examples doesn't weaken the case for macroevolution at all. Just because Dr. Craig considers them to be trivial does not mean that they are, indeed, trivial. While some examples may seem trivial, a large pool of examples presents a much more compelling case. We can't just look at two or three examples to form a conclusion here.

Michael Denton’s point that we ought to see millions of transitional forms if the neo-Darwinian paradigm were true is hardly out of date and remains a pressing problem. (Your cheap shot against Denton, who is, by the way, a fine scientist, is all too typical of those who turn to ad hominem attacks when they can’t refute the evidence.)

I addressed the first part of this quote above.

There was no 'cheap shot' against Denton at all. The commenter wrote that his book was not well-regarded and is outdated. Craig responds to what he thought was an ad hominem with an ad hominem; he claims that the commenter is resorting to ad hominem attacks because he can't refute the evidence! Saying that someone was not well-received is no personal attack. Denton's work was actually extremely problematic!

...theorists like Michael Behe embrace the Thesis of Common Ancestry. Their bone to pick (no pun intended) is with the postulated explanatory mechanisms of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Here you had nothing to say to show that the staggering biological complexity which our world exhibits could have been created by such mechanisms in the span of four billion years.

Oh, the complexity bit...

Complexity is not created. Complexity is a term we use for something that appears to be intricate, magnificent, and complicated. Craig mentions the figure of four billion years, but fails to mention that many, many, many steps led to what we see now. Four billion years is quite a long time and is sufficient for the "staggering biological complexity." Complexity, also, does not imply design. Be wary of "I can't explain it, therefore God exists" arguments.

Recall Barrow and Tipler’s claim that there are at least ten steps in the evolution of homo sapiens, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and incinerated the Earth!

Here we go again with the probability; this is very similar to Craig's fine-tuning argument tactics. These type of arguments (that usually lead to "God did it" should always be extremely suspect. Think about the random, everyday events that happen throughout our lives. We see a particular line of cars on the road and particular people eating in a restaurant. What are the chances that all of these cars were lined up just like that or that those particular people - none more or none less - would be eating in this restaurant at a particular time? We easily make mistakes when probability is concerned and often don't realize exactly how probable 'common occurances' are that are actually really improbable. What are the chances that, right now, I would be authoring a post like this at 5:49 AM and selecting these words to relay my thoughts? Of all the things I could be doing (like sleeping), this is quite improbable. I'm commenting on this because I saw a post about this response from Craig on a friend's wall? What were the chances of that? What were the chances that would have popped up in my news feed on Facebook...?

While these ten steps that Craig describes may be improbable, he's merely compounding steps and, instead, these steps should be looked at from step one to step two and step two to step three... and not one to ten. Looking at the steps from one to ten seems like a great leap that is more improbable than the individual step to the individual step. Indeed the whole thing is improbable and 1-10 is more improbable than 1-2, but that shouldn't be the focus here. Don't be misled.

...and so what if the event was improbable? We have good evidence to suggest that it indeed happened. The universe, in the state that it is in now resulting from the Big Bang, is extremely improbable. What are the chances that the Big Bang happened? Asking "what are the chances" is interesting, but ultimately a distraction. The Big Bang happened...and we can look at the overwhelming evidence to suggest that it did. We can look at the evidence for human evolution and, voila!, we have a winner, probable or not.

Johnson’s insight is that the neo-Darwinian theory’s status as the best explanation of biological complexity depends crucially on excluding from the pool of live explanatory options non-naturalistic hypotheses. Johnson has often said that he would have no objection to evolutionary theorists’ claiming that evolution is the best naturalistic hypothesis available for explaining biological complexity. What he protests is the claim that evolutionary theory is the best explanation simpliciter.

Non-naturalistic explanations, right out of the gate, fail in the criterion of simplicity because they need to posit realities beyond the natural world. They raise more questions than they answer (and thus don't have good explanatory power). They go against what we already know about the world, thus they are not conservative (we have no good reason to posit some sort of supernatural reality that has not already been confirmed). They also are not testable. The competing non-naturalistic explanations are not good ones.

How are we, also, to distinguish between plausibility amongst non-naturalistic hypotheses? Can we honestly arrive at an epistemic conclusion of "God did it" is more plausible than "Some advanced alien technology did it" and be able to show evidence supporting the former; the 'God hypothesis' should not have fiat over other non-naturalistic explanations. If naturalistic hypotheses are going to be discounted, opponents of the established theories need to present alternatives and demonstrate why they are more plausible. What competing theories do we even have? Beware the false dichotomy of "Evolution is not sufficient to explain x, therefore God;" even if evolution were totally lacking in explanatory power and was seriously flawed, supernatural explanations would suddenly not be viable. What about other naturalistic explanations? What about "I don't know?"

Were we to admit into the pool of live explanatory options non-naturalistic hypotheses, then it would no longer be evident that evolutionary theory is the best explanation of the data. It is in that sense that the theory presupposes naturalism. The theory itself doesn’t imply naturalism; rather it is the theory’s current exalted position as the reigning paradigm which depends crucially on excluding from consideration non-naturalist alternatives.

What are these options? Craig fails to present them. Craig mentions God here and there, but does not satisfactorily (or at all, really) offer an alternative explanation. He can type all day and talk about how evolution is not the best explanation, but without a competing explanation, these words are pointless. Craig talks about 'presupposing naturalism' in regards to evolution, but he commits a fatal error here. He acknowledges a difference between best explanation and best naturalistic explanation, but then neglects to realize that the reason why people think evolution is the best explanation is because of the evidence.

People who accept evolution aren't saying, "We presuppose naturalism, therefore it's the best explanation." While science may be 'limited' to methodological naturalism, and for good reasons, we can talk about all competing theories as philosophers or even as scientists who would consider any evidence whether it be natural or alleged to be supernatural. If some supernatural evidence came in and was really good evidence, I'd ditch my naturalism, but until that happens, I am not going to forfeit beliefs without evidence. Evolution is the best explanation and is much better than the alternative explanations that are frequently offered such as creationism and intelligent design.

Craig talks of evolution as 'exalted' and says that it depends on excluding non-naturalistic alternatives. No theory in science is 'exalted' or otherwise beyond criticism. Scientists constantly critique others' ideas [peer review, anyone?] and face alternative explanations for established theories. When evidence comes in to change established belief, the paradigm shifts. While this may take time, evidence will prevail. No evidence, though, has come forth to discredit evolution and more importantly, no viable alternative has been proposed. Evolution doesn't depend on anything outside of the evidence currently supporting it. Craig tries to portray evolution is standing on a precipice waiting to fall in fear of the non-naturalistic alternative to knock it off a cliff, but this simply isn't the case at all.

For if naturalism is true, then as Alvin Plantinga likes to say, evolution is the only game in town. No matter how improbable, no matter how weak the evidence, evolution’s got to be true because there just isn’t anything non-natural to account for biological complexity. Hence, the confidence.

Regardless of whether or not naturalism is true, evolution is the 'only game in town' because of the current evidence supporting it and the lack of competing theories. It's not the case, at all, that 'evolution's got to be true because there just isn't anything non-natural to account for biological complexity.' The 'confidence' is a product of evidence, not because of presuppositions of naturalism or the truth value of naturalism.

While I am no evolutionary biologist, I'm well-read and well-informed about these matters. I supplemented my criticism with some philosophy [of science] and links from academic resources. If I've made any errors, as always, feel free to direct criticism at me. Hopefully, I missed something that Craig was trying to say and he can be redeemed, but I fear that he cannot be.

It is quite ironic and humorous that Craig writes that it is "enormously presumptuous to think that we can say with confidence what God would or would not do when it comes to His creating life on this planet. Better to keep an open mind and look at the evidence to see what he did, in fact, do!" So, it's presumptuous to think that we can talk about what God would or would not do, but it's not presumptuous to believe that we are made in God's image and that this universe was finely-tuned for our existence?