Video of Atheist/Christian Panel Discussion April 6, 2010

Video of Atheist/Christian Panel Discussion

Back in February, I participated in a panel discussion about atheism and Christianity along with my friends Ashley Paramore (atheist) and Jon Weyer (Christian). It took place at a conference called Jubilee.

There’s finally video of the discussion — check it out and let us know what you think:

As with any event like this one, I go through a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking about what I wish I could’ve said. It was also philosophy-heavy, which is not my forte.

I’d love to know how you would’ve answered any question differently from me as well as what you liked/disliked.

Thanks to Ashley for the videos!

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  • I’m going to try to be constructive here. I think Hemant and Ashley needed to prepare more. I know this wasn’t technically a “debate” but you guys needed to prepare for it as if it was a debate. Here are a few things:

    1. Can science disprove God? Well, it depends on which God. The vague higher power entity? No science can’t disprove that god. But the God of the Bible, history and science can very easily disprove. Science is limited… for now but our scientific understanding is growing and some day science may have aswers to thinks like morality (see Harris’s future book: The Moral Landscape).

    2. Speaking of morality, I would question the moral grounding of Bible and/or God (I wrote a great examiner article on this). As for the atheist moral grounding, I think? Hemant could have been stronger talking about empathy and compassion rather than talking about cultural relativity. That was just a weak ass argument and it made a ton of Christians in the room think to themselves, “See, I told you atheists have no moral grounding. Rape in the Muslim world is just their culture nothing right or wrong about it from the atheist perspective.”

    3. Presuppositional Theology is pretty new, but it is making its rounds as of late. Willson used it unchallenged in “Collision” and you guys got some of those questions in this discussion. This topic will come up again, so I advise learning about it and coming up with a way to address it. I’ll be blogging on it soon and I think I have something up on it already on from awhile back.

  • jtradke

    Is there any chair throwing? I won’t watch unless there’s chair throwing.

  • Jonas

    Speaking as a Jew, regarding giving to charity I’m not certain Hehmet was correct in that Christians as a group give the most to charity.

    Most Jews in some way give to charity under their principle of “Tikkun olam” However at the same time several Jews consider themselves theologically atheist, and due to culture may be giving to the established jewish charities, rather than ‘Foundation beyond Belief’ or similar specifically non-theistic charities.

  • Carol

    Two thoughts:

    1. Can science disprove god? No. You can’t prove a negative. Ask the Christian to disprove the existence of leprechauns or fairies. It can’t be done: there might be one hanging around somewhere, eluding us. But every bit of evidence suggests (and most of us feel pretty sure that) they don’t exist. Who knows, someday god might show himself (along with his leprechaun friends?), and science will be able to see/measure it. But until then, god remains like leprechauns or Santa Claus: unprovable but extremely unlikely.

    2. Upon what do we base our morality? It’s always a hard question: Christians get to say “God!” or “The Bible!” while atheists have to give a big lecture about evolution and social groups. But you could always say “Suppose you’re angry with your neighbor. Is it moral to key his car?” or “Is it moral to throw a rock through their window?” (or some such questions.) Everyone knows (hopefully!) it’s immoral, yet you can challenge the Christian: “On what do you base your answer?” The Bible has no “Thou shalt not key someone’s car” commandment. How do they know it’s wrong? What are they basing it on?

    Good job, Hemant. 🙂

  • Jonas makes a good point. Organized atheism is a relatively new thing. Many atheists give to charity, but not necessarily to atheist charity groups simply because they don’t know about them. Many atheists give to charities on their own. Plus, atheists tend to be individualistic and sometimes they don’t like to donate to charity in the name of atheism which may seem like they are using the charity as a way to promote atheism. I don’t necessarily agree with that position, but I do understand it.

  • Carol, I want to address that first point. It really depends on the negative. Santa Claus for example we can disprove. He is a particular. We know where the idea for Santa came from and the evolution of that idea. While it isn’t a 100% proof, nothing in science really is. Just thought I would throw my two sense in on this one because the whole “you can’t prove a negative” really is a weak argument in the minds of Christians. It seems to them to be a dodge.

  • Watched the first vid, just started the second. Thanks for posting. You seem like a really nice, intelligent guy. I’m enjoying the dialogue.

  • Hugh Kramer

    I’d like to address something else; how nice it is to have a friendly dialogue with a religious group. We’re never going to convince the majority of the faith-based to change their minds about their religions so the next best thing is each learning the other is a neighbor rather than a monster. The benefit of that is that maybe they’ll start to listen to some of our other ideas rather than just stopping up their ears because it’s an atheist talking.

  • Revyloution

    Hemant, On the question near 32:00 with the odd language, there is an easy answer. Neil Tyson nailed it. Science doesn’t trust our senses. Science starts with the assumption that our senses are fallible. Science uses tools that can make observations independent of our perceptions. That’s the beauty of it.

  • Kevin

    Cultural relativism and postmodernism get an undeservedly bad rap. Atheists need to embrace cultural relativism and postmodernism, because the argument that there is a capital-T truth without supernatural grounding is a weak argument. The religious can say that they have special access to the Truth because they have access to the being that created the natural world, and have access to their laws. Atheists cannot claim this, and must ground their morality in culturally negotiated ways.

    When asked to explain my morality, I say something similar to what Hemant said: harm none, do what ye will (bonus points for people who get the reference). Yes, it’s easy to point to examples like rape in Iran and say that it should never be allowed. But the grounding you have for saying that is based on history, culture, and philosophy, all of which was developed by human beings. And that’s okay! But we need to make arguments against things like rape in Iran not by saying that it is absolutely, universally wrong, and that we have access to better morality than the Iranians, because that makes us no better than the religious claiming to have better morality because it is grounded in the supernatural. We have to make arguments like: rape in Iran is wrong because the people who it is being done to say it is wrong, and it is for them to decide, not outsiders. Therefore, it is not us dictating morality on others, but affirming the right of individuals to make decisions about what is right and wrong for themselves.

    (And yeah, that’s based on culture, history, and lived experience also, but you don’t need capital-T truth to make these kinds of arguments and have standing.)

  • Great video- thanks for sharing. I can’t help but wish that Matt Dillahunty was on the panel! Keep up the great work Hemant, love your site!

  • My quarterback on this would about the “does religion ruin everything”. I think you should have mentioned that liberal/moderate religion gives cover to the extremist and their views. We have more in common with the lib/mod xtian but they will give tacit support to Fred Phelps. This is a problem.

  • Hemant,

    I thought you and Ashley did a good job. Although you could have had better answers at a few times (origin of morality, problem of perception, etc) the precise answers to these questions are not really important in the big scheme of things. What you and Ashley are able to do very well is to merely be yourselves… happy well adjusted people comfortable in your own skin willing to engage in friendly dialog. For people harboring very negative stereotypes of atheists, engagements like this serve to shatter these negative stereotypes. It shows them that atheists can be regular people too. Job well done.

  • Potco

    I would like to echo DangerousTalk’s sentiments. I agree that science cannot prove or disprove a god. However, when it comes to specific claims about a god, science can test this and does so. For example, is there a god who answers prayers? No, science has shown this. Are there miracles, no. Is the Christian god that is commonly worshiped real, no. However, is it possible a god of some sort created the initial universe, yes. I doubt it, which is why I am an atheist and not a deist, but it is possible.

  • ElitistB

    “Where do atheists get their morals from?”

    Why is this always a big question? I got my morals from my parents, primarily, coupled with my basic human empathy. I don’t necessarily do the golden rule, but I at least try to live by the silver one, “Do not perpetrate harm on others unless you wish the same harm upon yourself”.

  • Is that HealthyAddict?

  • Can religion be harmful? YES – in every case.

    The community, charity, and social networks the surround religions have , in most cases, nothing whatsoever to do with the central tenants of the faith.

    There is NOTHING that religion adds to a charity which makes it a better charity. It can only serve to discriminate who receives the charity and under what conditions. For example, in England the church recently threatened to cease helping children if they were forced to treat homosexuals equally. I find it hard to see how a secular charity could reach this conclusion, or behave in this manner. This is one example among many.

    Picking up on Hitchens question – name one good thing which demands I believe Jesus was born of a virgin or rose from the dead to achieve.

  • Luther

    I also disagree that Atheists don’t give to charity. It is just that we don’t give it in the name of non-belief, or based on non-belief.

    Like religious folk we give in the name of something we believe in. In general we give because we believe in the work of the charity we are giving to. Of course, sometimes we give because we want to look good or contribute because we don’t want to disappoint a friend or to honor a friend.

    The difference with religious folk is that they also may give out of duty, guilt, or fear of a god’s wrath or gain entrance to some type of heaven. And they can assign their gift as honoring or caused by their religion.

    I provide the example of Paul Newman. Quite a contributor. Why would he claim that his charitable contributions and personal efforts were caused by non-belief? They were caused by his humanity.

  • Greg

    Love the discussion. Very well done.

    One thing I might have said in regard to “Where does your morality come from?” would be to talk about children on a playground. It’s very likely that two 1 year old’s don’t have any concept of God or The Golden Rule, but they still know that the other one just stole their favorite toy – and they’re definitely not happy about it. They know it’s wrong. They can’t tell you why, but they definitely know it.

  • Greg

    Re: The morality thing.

    The problem is that morality as defined by many, many people is a nebulous, incoherent concept.

    Ask a theist (and many atheists) what morality is, and inevitably you get responses like:

    Doing ‘good’ deeds. Doing the ‘right’ thing.

    Ask them what ‘good’ means in this concept, and you inevitably get told something like:

    The ‘right’ thing. You know, ummm… ‘good’. What we ‘should’ do.

    Ask them what right means, and…

    Eventually, with a theist, you inevitably get to something like:

    “What god wants us to do.”

    Well in which case it is not objective. Gah.

    Unless you have someone tell you something like:

    The right thing to do in order to do something (e.g. protect the rights of an individual, better our fellow species’ standard of life, what god wants us to do (again, in which case not objective) etc. etc.)

    the chances are that their concept of morality is completely meaningless.

  • Andrew — Ashley is, indeed, HealthyAddict

  • Jeremy D. Frens

    I thought you and Ashley did a great job for that audience and for your goals. I agree with Revyloution and Neil deGrasse Tyson re: “Science doesn’t trust our senses.” I’d also add that scientists (and atheists) don’t believe in science, we trust it. If anyone presented scientific proof that the earth was 6000 years old, that’s what we’d trust in. If anyone presented proof that Moses never existed, Christians would still believe.

  • michael carson

    Well it was an interesting idea but not really a stellar performance by the A team. Particularly, as an Atheist that does give, I seriously question Hemant’s suggestion that Atheist are not givers. Are there stats to back up such an assertion? or was that simply a personal opinion? Certainly not the venue I would have chosen for such a comment. It only reinforces that smug self-satisfied Xtian that one can’t possibly be good without God. Yuck.

  • smittypap

    Good job, Hemant. On the very last question — “If there was only one christian left in the world, would you try to convert him?”, the answer seems pretty simple. It would be unnecessary to convert him because society would consider him to be mentally ill. He should seek professional help for this affliction. I think even the christians in the room might agree.

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