Rules for a God Debate July 4, 2010

Rules for a God Debate

If you’re moderating a debate between Christians and atheists anytime soon, I suggest going over some ground rules first.

It’ll make everything run more smoothly…

(via NonStampCollector)

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  • yGns

    Great job from NSC as usual! *thumbs up*

    I would actually love to see before a debate based on “morality” or a branch or another of biology, the moderator say: “We shall NOT talk about the Big Bang or Hitler tonight.”

  • What a hoot!
    The moderator could have also mentioned that any debater should not confuse subsequence with consequence. For example if someone prays for rain today and then it rains tomorrow, it doesn’t mean that the rain was caused by the prayer. All it means is that the prayer preceded the rain.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    You sure are friendly atheists around here

    That’s why I will do what I can to oppose your side getting political control…my grandparents escaped from a country, now self destructed, where Militant Atheists DID have control.

    Imprisonment, torture, maiming, rape, murder…all sanctioned by the Officially Atheistic Government.

    Never Again!

  • Hey Bertram, guess what?

    We don’t want to force anyone to stop being religious, and we don’t want our country to become officially atheist.

    Now kindly go back wherever you came from and stop making wildly ridiculous assumptions, okay? Seriously, you act like ANY criticism of the sort of nonsense we run into is identical to rounding people up into camps. Do you honestly have no concept of scale?

    You literally did several of the things that NSC mentioned in this video – widely misrepresenting our views, playing the victim, etc.

  • Phrosty

    @Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    So, you’re saying that atheism leads to unethical behavior, as opposed to theism?

  • Hitch

    Excellent video. I would love to have a debate on that ground. There would be much progress. As it stands I think almost all of the debates that are going on a rehashes. But it’s still important. Too many people have never heard the arguments.

    Bertram, as for communism. There are two points to this. It’s totalitarian tendencies that justified the most horrible aspects of it was not derived from atheism. Let me quote the communist manifesto:

    “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.”

    Marx and Engels were clear. The mandate for force came to allow equalization of the classes. Class struggle not atheism is the justification of violence.

    Of course they were wrong. Any system that is sent as a detour through a one-party rule is bound to degrade into a dictatorship.

    And transition does not inherently require mandates to “sweep away by force” the conditions of old conditions of production.

    The communist manifesto promoted an aggressive and totalitarian path and claimed that historically the need for aggression and single-rule will naturally dissolve.

    None of this is atheism at all. It is totalitarianism, it is classism, it is single-party system, it is class-santioned violence.

    In any case virtually all atheists I know want a free pluralistic society with freedom of expression, freedom of religion and from religion.

  • Nessa

    I think it would have been great if the last man on the theistic side, had gotten up and walked to the other table, and sat down at the end.

  • Watcher

    @Nessa Great idea. I was thinking it would be funny to have the last remaining theist get up and pause and stammer before saying, “Yeah. I got nothin’.”

  • Yes – on no account must theists say anything atheists disagree with, or affirm any doctrines they might hold to.

  • Hitch

    Nathan, clearly you haven’t watched the video or understood the debate rules.

    My favorite rhetorical fallacy: intentional misstatements combined with totalizing exaggeration.

  • Nathan: Perhaps you missed the bit where all the arguments he mentions are invalid or based on fallacies?

  • Hitch

    Here is how this works:

    A- “Let’s not debate the claim that all swans are white because it has been shown that black swans were found”.

    B- “Oh you just want to win the debate on any topic relating to swans, noone can disagree with you, your doctrines are right”

    No, B does not follow from A.

    But yes it does follow that in an honest debate things that have been proven false can no longer be entered. This says nothing about the rest of it all.

  • Valhar2000

    I think it would have been great if the last man on the theistic side, had gotten up and walked to the other table, and sat down at the end.

    It would have been a little anvilicious, though.

  • Nessa

    Valhar, Thanks for adding a new word to my vocabulary!

  • Mike

    Wow! As an atheist and a high school teacher who teaches logic and logical fallacies, this was brilliant! Well done and bravo!

  • Valhar2000

    Nessa, step into TVTropes with care, for if you tread too far into that god-forsaken land you may never leave.

    And then you will start to use their terms in normal conversation and people will think you’re weird.

  • Aegis

    TV Tropes *will* ruin your life.

  • raisedbybadgers

    Nessa said:
    Valhar, Thanks for adding a new word to my vocabulary!

    Heh. Follow the link Valhar posted. Dare ya.

    Hope you’ve got lots of time on your hands, though. 🙂

  • Nessa

    I followed the link, found out what anvilicious meant, and then left. I don’t fall into internet traps that easily.

    However, now that you all have made such a fuss over it, I have it bookmarked for further exploration later.

  • Ben

    Is there a transcript anywhere? I’d like to Instapaper it and read it offline.

    Ben

  • He forgot to tell the atheists to not act smug when they are technically right on every point. And he forgot to tell the theists not to act morally superior because they define morality as believing in what they believe in.

  • I enjoyed some parts of that, but I’m not pleased to see the idea that evolution can explain morality trotted out again. This idea really spoiled my enjoyment of The God Delusion.

    Evolution can explain why certain behaviors persist, but it cannot provide justification for them as moral (unless you find infanticide among gorillas or rape among orangutans morally righteous since those are also winning evolutionary strategies). I went into more detail in a post inspired by Terry Pratchett that I wrote here: http://www.unequally-yoked.com/2010/06/only-animals-cant-help-what-they-are.html

  • trixr4kids

    @Leah

    “Evolution can explain why certain behaviors persist, but it cannot provide justification for them as moral”

    No, it can’t, but I think that’s taking the point (“evolution can explain morality”) further than it was intended to go.

    Empathy and reciprocity evolved amongst big-brained social creatures because such qualities help maintain group stability–this is a pretty reasonable hypothesis.

    Humans seem to approve of empathy and reciprocity–at least, we sure like them when they’re directed at us–and we’re smart enough and self-reflective enough to have devised an abstract concept called “morality” which elevates them into general rules of conduct.

    Certainly evolution couldn’t care less, and we’re the ones deciding what’s moral and what isn’t. But the human behaviors and emotional propensities that underlie our morality evolved: That’s the point.

  • muggle

    Heh. That was amusing.

    Only I didn’t find it realistic that the Christians actually listened to those rules than got up and walked out instead of just ignoring them once debate began.

  • Wow! Impressive. Winning a one-sided debate. Wonder how you’d do with a competent opponent. Some of your conclusions were so far from factual that it throws your entire blog into question. Moreover being dismissive of other POV’s is hardly the way to be friendly.

  • Fritzy

    Randy;

    I think you kind of missed the point of the video and didn’t read the responses to Nathan’s comment above. The debate was “won” because the ground rules laid out stated that neither side could employ logical fallacies. So often in debates of this type, the same old baseless, logically unsound bits of falderol are tossed about. It gets tiresome. Not to say that there aren’t competent xtain debaters–the point the video was trying to make is that so often, the same baseless claims are used ad nauseum and that no amount of refutation seems to end their use.

    Please enlighten us: which of the conclusions made in this video were factually inacurate enough to call into question Hemant’s entire blog? Keep in mind that this video was not made by Hemant, simply posted by him. And how was this video dismissive? Keep in mind, quickly discarding logical falacies and claims not supported by evidence in a debate is not being disimissive or unfriendly, it’s good debate technique.

  • Pseudonym

    More suggested ground rules:

    Let’s not misuse scientific words like “delusion”. If you’re not a qualified psychiatrist and not in an in-care relationship with someone, you are not in any position to diagnose your opponents with a mental illness.

    I don’t want either side to assert that there is some inherent conflict between science and religion. This one has been debunked to death, and we really don’t need to point out how many scientists are religious, how many religious people are pro-science, do we?

    Oh, and I don’t want the people on my left saying that “religion poisons everything” without taking a statistically valid sample of “everything”. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”. I hope we all stick to that one.

    I would also ask that nobody use the term “shell game” to refer to different people believing different things, or organisations changing their opinions over time. If you’re allowed to change your beliefs when new evidence comes in, then so are your opponents. That also goes for both sides.

    And let’s do a deal: If you guys won’t mention Stalin, the other guys won’t mention the Crusades, and vice versa.

    (Yes, I could probably stretch this out to 10 minutes.)

  • Hitch

    I can see the point of some of these. Others, not so much.

    “Delusion” – how about as a rule, let’s not shelter people from testing labels as they are defined against categories that are usually sheltered from that label.

    Believing in an invisible friend -> delusional.
    Believing in an invisible god -> moral, good, right, proper.

    Inherent conflict of science and religion, well indeed there may not be an inherent conflict, but it’s up to religions to decide this. If religions do make natural claims they inherently intrude on the domain of science. It’s exactly because religions do not obey the idea of non-overlapping magesteria, is why there is a problem of science needing to content with superstition.

    I would agree on “everything” such as “god explains everything” and on anecdote “jesus resurrected from the grave” as data “hence christianity is true”.

    On “shell game”, agreed except in epistemology. If a hypothesis is falsified, it is falsified and cannot be rescued by rewriting. A new one has to be formulated. And if the new one is related, the relation has to be explained.

    On Stalin, well communist violence was justified in the communist manifesto because of class struggle, not atheism. So yes atheists are allowed to counter false claims about stalinism as if it was just degenerate atheism.

    On the crusades, they were direct consequences of restorative fantasies of believers derived fron christianity. They are absolutely topic of debate, but the debate has to be factual.

  • Greg

    Hmm, I was writing a response to Pseudonym, got called away, and refreshed to see Hitch had already done it. I won’t restate the things he’s already written.

    Just a bit more on the various historical atrocities, which is a bit of a pet peeve, probably because so many theistic apologists seem to rely upon it.

    The reason Stalin is worthless as an argument against atheism is simply because it is impossible to trace a chain of causation from atheism to any action (good or bad). All you need in order to be an atheist, is not to believe in god: that alone cannot cause you either to commit genocide, or make a noble act of self sacrifice. That’s why anyone who claims atheism leads to mass death should just be laughed at.

    When you come to some of the charges levelled at religion, though, there are obvious links (e.g. ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ and witch burnings), and so they can not be so easily dismissed. In many of these cases there are actual chains of causation.

    However, bringing these things up would generally be irrelevant unless the debate happened to concern morality and religion. If the debate was – say – does god exist, they would just be appeals to consequences.

    Also, it should be pointed out that some of the rules NSC’s moderator had said would also have dealt with this subject.

  • Hitch

    I haven’t seen this before though: “We won’t mention Stalin if you won’t mention Crusades”.

    A rather immoral proposition.

    Hitchens would call this hucksterism of the worst kind. (“So I won’t tell the police about your dead bodies in the closet if you don’t mention mine, OK?”)

    No we have to talk about both, but be honest about their historical and ideological contexts.

    So the really good debate rules would be: No hiding historical facts or connections, no quoting out of context, no unfounded assumptions about ideologies and ideological ties.

    Those would be good rules and basically remove the false “atheism lead to most of the 20th century atrocity” meme.

  • If atheists do not believe that everything came from nothing, what is the alternative that would have any evidence at all? (Everything has always existed notwithstanding)

    Persecution: Is there anywhere on earth where atheists are being killed or jailed for their POV? Do you know of any universities where atheists have been refused permission to speak, disinvited after being invited, or been heckled during their talk to the point of not being able to finish? Do you hear of any atheists in classrooms in our universities that are summarily dismissed by professors for having an atheist worldview? There is a might difference between having power and using it vs being truly persecuted.

    You rightly state that Science failing to have an answer does not automatically mean that God did it (use of phrase magical god being is divisive and dismissive.) However, naturalistic assumptions that there will always be an naturalistic primogenitor is based on nothing but faith in exactly the same way that inserting God is based on faith. No difference.

    Definition of theory. Does anyone listening truly think the moderator was asking if the naturalists and atheists were confused about the definition. Is it churlish to assert that those in the Christian camp might not know the difference. Besides, there seems to be a huge group of atheists who would assert that evolution has moved far beyond theory at this point.

    Shall I go on?

    By the way, the video was cute and well done. Just complete hogwash and a transparent attempt to assume facts not in evidence.

  • Hitch

    Randy, there is no evidence for your position, there is no evidence for any position in that regard. To simply state “we don’t know” is sufficient to describe what is going on.

    The persecution thing is funny, when most universities have whole departments devoted to theology and religion. It’s even more funny when we have actual stories of attempts to force politicians out of office because they are atheists, but no such thing about believers. Where are the stories of school children getting bullied by an atheist mob, when you will find stories of atheist (and gay or other minority) children getting bullied and even expelled from school.

    Persecution of believers? Wake up.

    No, believers claim to be bullied when at a university they get critical questions. That’s about all there is to it.

    “naturalistic assumptions that there will always be an naturalistic primogenitor is based on nothing but faith”

    I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, but I think it fairly falls under the “don’t misrepresent the other’s point of view” category.

    You clearly don’t know what “theory” is. Look it up. Don’t waste our time, reexplaining it when it has been explained a gazillion times.

    The problem with the “theory” argument is that people try to derive false equivalence between creationism as “theory” and evolution as “theory”. However, the value of a theory is measured by how much evidence supports it, if it has predictive power etc etc. But by the debate rules I would not have to reexplain this (and yes I have explained this many more times than should be necessary).

    And no, don’t go on.

  • Steve

    How exactly can anything in science “move beyond theory”? A scientific theory is the most consistent, well proven and reviewed system and/or rule set that uses observable data and observations to explain something. It also falsifiable.

    The problem here is that what we call a theory in common speech is a “hypothesis” in science. Merely an assumption to start from. A scientific theory is something else entirely.

    Tons of people don’t know that difference. You don’t either.

    Creationism isn’t a scientific theory because, among other things, it’s not a consistent system in of itself. All it tries to do is poke holes into evolution and then basically says “god did it”. Not in so many words and intelligent design deliberately removed any explicit god-references, but that’s what it boils down to.

  • Fritzy asked what part was dismissive. “No, don’t go on is dismissive”

    At GodvsnoGod.blogspot.com, we invite everyone to go on as long as they wish, and recognize that new folks may need a new explanation for old well discussed issues. Moreover, we may be talking passed one another on the issue of “theory.” I make no claim that creationism is at the point of theory.

    And I have sadly been deprived of any kind of decent education so it is no wonder that I have such a poor understanding that I should just move on. Undergrad Psych BA at UCLA. JD at the same institution. 6 published books including Warner.

    Moreover, my life experience is also troubling for many. Born into a Christian family, contemplated attending Clairmont School of Theology, left the church for 14 years and flirted with agnosticism, primarily on the basis of evolutionary claims, then returned to fundamentalism as claims of science became less trustworthy, and often manipulated by financial considerations (eg. fda, grants, global warming)

  • Hitch

    Randy, you didn’t understand the debate rules. Yes the debate rules are dismissive of certain topics. Why? Because they have been discussed ad nauseum.

    You make claims that “a huge group of atheists who would assert that evolution has moved far beyond theory” without citing anybody. Basically you are peddling in hearsay (know that word from lawschool?) and want us to not be dismissive of it?

    You make claims to your own authority, but frankly your authority doesn’t mean anything. Your arguments matter. Einstein is not right, just because he is Einstein. So that is dismissible too.

    As for science, if you think science is wrong show it. Even if there was a funding conspiracy that would not automatically disprove science.

    Do you think a judge should have sympathy for a lawyer who constantly enters dismissible arguments into a case? Or would the judge ask the lawyer to stop it.

    See people enter arguments that don’t hold, and then cry “I have been treated in a dismissive way”. I’m sorry you as legally trained should understand exactly that one has no choice. This is what the fate of invalid evidence or arguments simply is.

    And to ask that a case be heard over and over again and call for a stop of constant re-litigation of a matter “dismissive” is also not proper.

  • Hitch,

    It’s an atheist website, and I guess you or somebody can make the rules here. Authority has weight in law and in life. You are not personally the final arbitrar on when a subject has been exhaustively debated and the winner determined. This seems to be a page from the Al Gore theory that the debate is over. Won’t wash.

  • Hitch

    Authority does have weight, but not the way you make it out to be.

    Funny that we never hear critics honoring the authority of biologists when we discuss the reach of “theories”, but we get law-school graduates claiming authorities to be the judge of it all.

    No the point stands, you have pretty much shown that you can peddle in hearsay and then cry that you have been dismissed.

    You want to claim that debates are still open, when they have been closed.

    But to just claim things and them make appeals to authority or appeals from ignorance is not proper debating.

    Hence debate rules, so that the whole debate is not about a constant rehash of the same old fallacies.

    This is exactly the problem we face right now. People construct controveries where there should be none. Climate change? Cosmology? Evolutionary Biology?

    The debate is open because people claim that the debate is open. That’s enough!

    Yes indeed, I’d be quite happy if we returned to evidence-based argument and not conspiracy theories and and argument by fallacies.

  • Steve

    I wouldn’t take that “ground rules” thing too seriously. I see it more as sarcasm. It does have a mocking undertone. He pretends to lay down some basic rules and then starts into this ever more elaborate preemptive debunking of potential arguments from the theists. But that’s exactly what it makes it funny to me.

  • raven

    You, sir, are awesome.

  • As one who has been engaging in all kinds of formal and informal debates for over 40 years, it is always better to be in a position to make the rules and to determine the subject.

    You may not take it seriously, but it would appear that your colleagues do.

  • fritzy

    Randy

    If atheists do not believe that everything came from nothing, what is the alternative that would have any evidence at all? (Everything has always existed notwithstanding)

    I don’t know. No one does. That is not only an acceptable response, it is the only intellectually honest one. Any other guess at this point is just that; a guess.

    You rightly state that Science failing to have an answer does not automatically mean that God did it (use of phrase magical god being is divisive and dismissive.) However, naturalistic assumptions that there will always be an naturalistic primogenitor is based on nothing but faith in exactly the same way that inserting God is based on faith. No difference.

    The way you worded this sounds like a bit of a straw man. I don’t know that atheists or anyone in the scientific community state this. I have heard it argued that it is ridiculous for people to claim that there are supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon. Given that “supernatural” cannot be operationalized, due to the fact that it is not natural by definition, and that science deals with the natural world, and that if a claim cannot be tested, it is conjecture, it is fair to call bullshit on this one. Anyone who insists on legitimacy for a claim that cannot be supported by evidence is guilty of special pleading.

    Besides, there seems to be a huge group of atheists who would assert that evolution has moved far beyond theory at this point.

    Who are these atheists? I’d like to have words with them, because they have a poor understanding of science. Being that in science, there is nothing really “beyond” theory, I don’t think I really understand what you are getting at. My only guess, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that you are referring to those who refer to evolution as a “fact” rather than a theory. It is a fact. In science, a theory is what is used to explain facts.

    “No, don’t go on is dismissive”

    Setting up ground rules that tired logical fallacies will not be utilized in a debate is not dismissive. It’s an attempt to delve deeper. Besides, this was a cartoon making fun of those logical fallacies. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of debates out there where xtians (and atheists) will be able to bring up the same annoying logical fallacies and poorly supported claims, generalizations and conclusions.

    And I have sadly been deprived of any kind of decent education so it is no wonder that I have such a poor understanding that I should just move on. Undergrad Psych BA at UCLA. JD at the same institution. 6 published books including Warner.

    No one here has asked you to “just move on” and I’m not sure what the point of listing your degrees was, beyond intellectual dick-swinging. Let your arguments speak for themselves, not the letters after your name.

  • Fritz,

    Excuse me for the credential display, but the cartoon and other comments here and elsewhere in the atheist blog/forum world, make the assumption that those who argue “God did it, and is still involved,” are 6th grade dropouts who haven’t read the science or the leading work on the naturalistic side.

    Your response to causes: If we leave the possibility of God out of the possibilities of causes, then we limit ourselves by definition. God is only supernatural by definition. In fact, God by Christian definition, would be the most natural element of nature. And regardless of your definition of evidence, God as creator is way beyond a guess.

    As to evolution as theory or fact, we once again come down to definition. No Christian denies that many of the elements of evolution are fact, but I suspect that for some the fact of evolution would include lizards to birds, fish to mammals, and such.

  • Hitch

    Randy:

    1) Atheists don’t assume that their counterparts are 6th graders. In fact some of our debate opponents are eminent scientists. It is irrelevant. Your argument counts not your prehistory.

    2) You postulate that god as creator is way beyond a guess. That’s not an argument, that’s a truth claim. How is anything without evidence more than a guess?

    3) “No Christian denies” is unfortunately untrue. Many christians believe that dinosaurs and humans co-habitated. But we should debate your position not other christian’s position. Your claims on evolution are not really clear. There is no argument about evolution being a theory or fact at all. It’s a theory. A really really good one.

    That’s why it’s good to understand what theory means, because no scientist argues that evolution is fact. They are argue that it is a very well confirmed, unfalsified theory with excellent predictive power.

  • Darwin himself said that his theory would fail if the fossil evidence did not find the famous missing links. They may still be found, but with the massive amount of fossil evidence having been assembled, it is amazing to not have any yet.

    Moreover, if we find a few that seem more satisfying than the frauds that have appeared so far, this will only provide historical evidence, and will not provide the kind of testable approach that one would prefer for proof. We have had numerous laboratory proofs of things that couldn’t be replicated. I don’t think we will take a single fossil record as the lynch pin.

    The basic premise of evolution with regard to adaptation to environment is not at issue. The causes (selfish genes, survival of the fittest, community survival genetics, are obviously still needing some research.

    The inclination of some to use one or more of these suppositions as the basis for how society should act in order to reach scientific perfection is the most worrisome part.

  • Forgot to respond to the direct challenge.

    You postulate that god as creator is way beyond a guess. That’s not an argument, that’s a truth claim. How is anything without evidence more than a guess?

    The universe and the things in it appear to have been the result of intelligent action, there is information and laws required to create and sustain all of matter and energy, and energy needs a source to keep from winding down. Just these four if found anywhere in nature would say “intelligent creator.” This is not proof, but it is evidence. Therefore, much more than a guess.

    We have a man who claimed to be God. Others saw him do things that seemed to substantiate his claim. Many, many believed. His claims then fit hand-in-glove with a very long history of claims in a document which is without peer in a host of ways. Both Jesus and the Bible have had a massive impact on human life beyond the impact of any other human or text. Both Jesus and the Bible declare there is a God who created everything. It is not proof, but it is evidence of the truth. It goes beyond a guess.

  • Hitch

    Randy, there is much more known about evolution than your description lets on. Also by your use of certain phrases it’s quite clear that you don’t refer to Darwin (“survival of the fittest” for example) or to the nonemclature that scientific literature uses (“missing link”)

    For a first start review the wikipedia articles on the matter. They give a first indication of the state of affairs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitional_fossil

    DNA based work has actually revealed a lot of information about gene evolution that gives very good indication about the transitions of the species. We know quite a bit about the relations of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens for example.

    It is frankly silly to still consider Dawkin’s “missing link” concern to be anything of relevance today. We have amply knowledge of gene evolution, we have a much denser fossil record.

    Finally you mix “social darwinism” with biological theory of evolution. These are separate topics.

    I would suggest that you read up on the topic some more.

  • Nice try, but obfuscation by trying to parce is not very useful. We all know what I am referring to. And calling something silly really advances the debate. The DNA story does nothing at all to advance the actual transition unless you’ve seen a USA Today 6″ headline that I’ve missed.

    I didn’t mix the social issue nor mention social darwinism. I added it as a concern, and specifically listed other scientific ideas that are weaving their way into social thinking without any basis in fact at all (selfish gene.)

  • Hitch

    Randy, I hate to say it but this is how these debates go. We meet people with lots of confidence in their argument. When we point out that they are insufficiently prepared, we are charged to be obfuscators.

    On social vs biological darwinism this is your sentence I read as mixing the two:

    “The inclination of some to use one or more of these suppositions as the basis for how society should act in order to reach scientific perfection is the most worrisome part.”

    Society acting is a social construct. Darwins theory is a biological one. I think my conclusion that you mixed the two is fair. I’ll take your word for it that you didn’t mean it that way.

    Rather than charge me with obfuscation, why not read up on the exciting research of the relation of homo sapiens and neanderthals. Svante Paabo is the scientist who does some of the coolest work in the area.

    Not only do we understand how genes evolve, we can learn from them how species migrated on the globe. Very cool stuff!

  • Gosh, Hitch. From my POV I find the same thing. Folks who haven’t read more than a few pages, much less a book on anthropological, historical, or other proofs of the Bible. Folks who, hard to believe, haven’t read the Bible, but are pretty darn quick to dismiss it. I admit to have only read small bits of Paabo in the course of the debate over on my blog. What we are learning from DNA is fascinating, useful, and filled with promise. Some of it might undermine historic debate points regarding the creation story or even cause some to question God’s hand in it all.

    Truth is, if all of Darwin turns out to be true, and we don’t need God to explain the creation of man as the only God Breathed creature on the planet, it won’t end the debate, will it?

  • Hitch

    The theory of evolution has nothing to say about the existence of deities.

    But for Christians, because evolution is by some perceived to contradict the story of Genesis, there is an issue. But that’s a specific problem for Abrahamic religions. Krishna or the Buddha couldn’t care less.

    As for having read the bible, I’ll just say most of our horror movies owe greatly to the relevations of John.

    I don’t want this to come off wrong, but believers often tell atheists to read the bible, the qur’an etc. In my experience it makes things worse.

    NonStampCollector has a brilliant piece on that problem:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB3g6mXLEKk

  • Reading a recent translation (easier to understand that the KJV) from cover to cover is the only test for a committed atheist who has arrived at their world view through intellectual analysis. Only then does the amazing story get told in its beauty and glory. Even committed Christian miss so much when they don’t go this route. The themes of sacrificial and unconditional love, unmerited forgiveness as a primary virtue, justice, mercy, charity, discipline, and more are played out against the backdrop of simple, unassuming lives in timeless poetry, fiction, and historical vinyetes.

    If you’ve never done it, you owe yourself the experience. May not change a thing. Might change everything.

  • trixr4kids

    @Randy Kirk:

    “…famous missing links. They may still be found, but with the massive amount of fossil evidence having been assembled, it is amazing to not have any yet”

    We have hundreds of transitional fossils–“missing links” if you will. You need to learn something about evolution if you’re going to discuss it.

    “We have a man who claimed to be God. Others saw him do things that seemed to substantiate his claim. Many, many believed”

    And so–? This sort of thing has happened throughout history, and continues to happen. People make claims, other people believe the claims. Hardly a convincing argument.

    “His claims then fit hand-in-glove with a very long history of claims in [the Bible]”

    Actually, they don’t. The evangelists certainly tried to make them fit the old Hebrew books retroactively, but they didn’t do a very good job of it. Notice the silliness of (Matthew, was it?) making Jesus literally ride two asses into Jerusalem in order to “fulfill” Zechariah 9:9 (clearly Matthew didn’t understand Hebrew poetics.)

    Then there are those two contradictory birth narratives, Matthew and Luke. Each tries to get Mary to Bethlehem so that Jesus of Nazareth could be born there in order to fullfill Hebrew prophecies. Neither story is plausible, historically or otherwise.

    “Folks who haven’t read more than a few pages, much less a book on anthropological, historical, or other proofs of the Bible.”

    I know a lot more about the Bible than you do about evolutionary biology. I’ve read a lot of the Bible. I tried to understand it long before I became an atheist. I’ve read Biblical scholars. I know about textual criticism and what the historical record says about various biblical claims. And there are no “proofs of the Bible”, Randy. None, that is, that anyone other than fundamentalists take at all seriously.

  • Pseudonym

    @Hitch

    I can see the point of some of these. Others, not so much.

    That’s perfectly fair. Similarly, I agree with some of the video, but not all of it.

    My point is not that atheist debaters (or, more commonly, authors) engage in some silly arguments, even though some do, and Hitch (that’s the actual Hitchens, not the poster here) is one of the worst offenders. It’s impressive that he can do the Gish Gallop (because it’s hard), but it doesn’t make for a rational debate.

    My point is that the moderator should spread the cynicism around. If the ground rules for the debate were even remotely rational, most such debates would be non-starters on either side.

    Mind you, I do understand that the topic of the supposed debate (“Is Christian theology true?”, which incidentally isn’t technically a debate topic since it’s a question not a thesis) is itself a non-starter on the grounds of being nonsensical to any non-fundamentalist Christian.

    I agree with most of your general response with a couple of exceptions, so I’ll just give a general agreement with at least the thrust of those responses. And in particular, I agree that many of my suggested additional “ground rules” can indeed be applied to the tired old arguments of many Christian debaters, which just makes it all the more bizarre to me when atheist debaters engage in the same fallacies.

    “Delusion” – how about as a rule, let’s not shelter people from testing labels as they are defined against categories that are usually sheltered from that label.

    Believing in an invisible friend -> delusional.
    Believing in an invisible god -> moral, good, right, proper.

    You have to understand that those two sentences are just as painful for a professional psychiatrist as watching Deepak Chopra use the word “quantum” is for a professional physicist.

    Any belief which is culturally or subculturally normal, and not associated with any other pathology, is not delusional. Hell, my daughter used to have an invisible friend when she was six. She was not mentally ill.

    On the crusades, they were direct consequences of restorative fantasies of believers derived fron christianity. They are absolutely topic of debate, but the debate has to be factual.

    This is a classic example of how the messiness of reality gets in the way of a nice clean piece of personal bias.

    The crusades were more or less directly caused by rich European merchants wanting to open up trade routes to the East that didn’t involve paying taxes to the people who ruled the lands between points A and B.

    Yes, the religious overtones can’t be ignored. Nor can you ignore the anti-religious overtones of Stalin’s purges.

    Hell, you can’t ignore the fact that the war in Iraq was fought using excuses such as “freedom” and “democracy”. But it’s a bad argument to use this to claim that arbitrary invasion of other countries, prisoner abuse and all manner of other horrible things are caused by freedom and democracy.

  • fritzy

    Darwin himself said that his theory would fail if the fossil evidence did not find the famous missing links. They may still be found, but with the massive amount of fossil evidence having been assembled, it is amazing to not have any yet.

    Darwin said no such thing. Darwin admitted at the time there was not enough evidence to call his hypothesis a theory. We have that evidence now. Evolution would not need the fossil record–there is plenty of other evidence to suport the theory of evolution–the fossil record is like a bonus. As far as there being no “missing link” which is a term no scientist worth his salt uses except in rebuttal to creationists, I have to ask, how many examples of “transitional” fossils must scientist provide before creationists will stop with this ridiculous argument? Scientists provide one example, then another then another and everytime the creationist responds with “but show an example of a trasitional species in the fossil record.”

    Moreover, if we find a few that seem more satisfying than the frauds that have appeared so far, this will only provide historical evidence, and will not provide the kind of testable approach that one would prefer for proof. We have had numerous laboratory proofs of things that couldn’t be replicated. I don’t think we will take a single fossil record as the lynch pin.

    Ah, Piltdown man. Scientists will never live that one down. And we don’t need the “linch-pin” of the fossil record–like I said before, there is plenty of other evidence to support evolution. Pick up any introductory text on the subject.

    The inclination of some to use one or more of these suppositions as the basis for how society should act in order to reach scientific perfection is the most worrisome part.

    Like Hitch pointed out, the only thing social Darwinism (a concept I personally find to be detestable pseudoscience) have in common is the word “Darwin.” And at any rate, the possible implications of Darwinian Evolutionary theory are ethical issue and have nothing to do with the validity of the scientific theory of evolution.

    The universe and the things in it appear to have been the result of intelligent action, there is information and laws required to create and sustain all of matter and energy, and energy needs a source to keep from winding down. Just these four if found anywhere in nature would say “intelligent creator.” This is not proof, but it is evidence. Therefore, much more than a guess.

    That just sounds like a fancy way of saying “God in the gaps.” If you’re looking for another possible explanation for why the laws of the universe are the way they are, look into multiverse theory. But saying, “well, it looks like you would need an intelligence to maintain these things” is not evidence; it is supposition.

    We have a man who claimed to be God. Others saw him do things that seemed to substantiate his claim. Many, many believed. His claims then fit hand-in-glove with a very long history of claims in a document which is without peer in a host of ways. Both Jesus and the Bible have had a massive impact on human life beyond the impact of any other human or text. Both Jesus and the Bible declare there is a God who created everything. It is not proof, but it is evidence of the truth. It goes beyond a guess.

    There are many men who have claimed to be god throughout history. As far as Jesus, there is no contemporary record of his existance–this among the Romans of the time who were known for being explicit and excuisite record keepers. And not one mention of Jesus or his miracles (please don’t bring up Josephus; we all know better.) The first of the four Gospels was not written until 30-50 years after his supposed death, so these can’t really be considered “reliable eye-witness accounts.” The impact of the Bible or of the apparently fictional Jesus says something only about the power of myths and speaks nothing to the actual existance of Jesus or any god(s). Jesus and the Bible making a claim that there is a god is not “evidence” of any god–it is a claim. When used as “evidence” it becomes a circular argument.

  • Hitch

    Pseudonym: I think Hitchens is a perfectly fine debater. He doesn’t mince words and will use ridicule but I have yet to see an unfair or frivolous argument. I’ll take examples.

    You have to understand that those two sentences are just as painful for a professional psychiatrist as watching Deepak Chopra use the word “quantum” is for a professional physicist.

    Yes I understand. Homosexuality use to be considered a mental disorder. Psychiatrists operate in a Christian culture and may be Christians and the bias of the belief-system is part of how we view mental illness. Consider the classical work of Foucault on the topic.

    Some Psychiatrists incidentally will not find it painful but perfectly accurate. In fact if you look up the DSM criteria, it isn’t so painful if one is able to abandon religious prejudice.

    But i do not want to be flippant about it. Certain religious convictions do not qualify as DSM-style delusions simply because people can change their convictions (change religions, lose faith etc). i.e. incorrigibility is not strictly met.

    But you are quite right that we do not tend to diagnose people as delusional, but rather delusion is one of the symptoms of a recognized condition (such as schizophrenia). But Dawkins didn’t title his book “The God Schizophrenia”. I cannot help but think that the bruhah over the word delusion is too much. There is a widely used colloquial form of the word.

    “The Yankees are delusional if they think that they are going to win this game.”

    That’s no derision of the yankees. Neither is using the word delusion to describe imaginary friends of our kids.

    It’s colloquial use. Noone said that saying delusion implies a serious mental illness, but for some reason people claim that it is. Delusion is deeply embedded in our language. We don’t get psychiatrists bouncing up and down if someone speaks of “Delusions of Grandeur” and the context does not meet the DSM criteria.

    As for Chopra, well he simply doesn’t know anything about physics. And Quantum does not have that colloquial meaning that delusion has.

    The point about the crusades is that religion was used to motivate people to go to war and it worked. It really doesn’t matter what the motives or the truth is. Religion was instrumental in the motivation to action.

    Heck Jesus could have been a con artist. It really doesn’t matter. What matters are the consequences.

    As for Stalin, atheism was not instrumental for the actions, but rather class warfare was. But yes, the communist manifesto said that no property can be kept from the proletariate, so churches too were subject to the seizing of property and the dismanteling of power. It’s not right, but it’s also not atheist ideology. It’s communism. The plight of the poor was the motivating force.

    These are not parallels. In fact willingness to follow authority was a big part of both. Atheism says nothing about following authority. However Catholicism very much said things with respect to following authority.

  • trix

    You may be wrong about how much I know about evolutionary biology, but I won’t quibble. I’d love to know who your resources were for Biblical apologetics. You can nit pick away at the historical accounts of the Bible and of Jesus. Much greater minds than yours or mine have spent more time on this than either you or I will and have concluded that the Bible is a true account and has far more documentation than any similar text.

  • Pseudonym

    nonsensical to any non-fundamentalist Christian.

    C’mon. That doesn’t even begin to meet the test. I know lots of liberal Christian, Muslims, Jews, agnostics who find the Bible to true in part or almost 100%. We could estimate that almost 1.7 billion non fundamentalist Christians alone would be in that group.

    Otherwise what you argued was very well said.

  • Hitch,

    For one thing delusional is “loaded.” If you want to engage your opponent, it is usually better to stay away from loaded statements. I fail at this often, but I try.

    Moreover, psychologically, I would come closer to calling a delusion the idea that in my finite and very limited scope of the universe, that I know anything at all. All of my knowledge is second hand at best and comes from folks that I choose to agree with.

    Reality might be understanding that I am very finite and maybe something greater than me exists and was responsible for my creation.

  • Hitch

    Randy, I fear too many words are loaded. In fact the word atheist is loaded.

    As for the rest of it, lack of delusion means being quite happy to accept “I don’t know” as an answer all sorts of ideas.

    To persistently claim to not know something that is known or knowable is “denial”.

    I have yet to see an atheist get his pants tied into a knot because there are books like: “Stepping Out of Denial into God’s Grace”

    Denial is a loaded word too.

  • You are right about the word “denial.”

    I don’t think atheist is loaded for me. One of my best buddies for the past 35 years is an Objectivist in the Ayn Rand mold. We have probably spent 1000 hours in debate. Another of my long time associates is Michael Shermer (I knew him before he was an athest). We’ve also had a few long rounds. So, for me at least, atheism, naturalism is just another world view. As with most Christians I care because of our belief that there are eternal consequences for unbelievers. As a political junky, I care because I think that a Christian underpinning of society has huge beneficial consequences. But I live in West LA where almost all of my friends and neighbors are not sharing much of my POV.

  • Hitch

    Atheism today still carries a large negative stereotype. That’s why it’s loaded. And as you said it’s also political. One cannot come out and say one is an atheist and have chance to get elected, even if one has exactly the same positions and track record as a believer.

    That’s the worst kind of loaded if you ask me. Worse than interpretations of a word.

  • Justin

    Much greater minds than yours or mine have spent more time on this than either you or I will and have concluded that the Bible is a true account and has far more documentation than any similar text.

    There’s that appeal to authority again. Nasty, nasty habit.

  • This is not an appeal to authority. This is to establish a point of reality for both of us. You cannot, nor can I, posit ourselves as the authority on the Bible and it’s correctness, trustworthiness, or whether it is God breathed, God inspired, or just made up hogwash. We can form an opinion, and our opinions will be just that.

    However, your opinion about the Bible is not based on any actual experience other than having read it or bits of it. You may have read other’s writings, either pro or con, but at the end of the day, your opinion is based solely on your analysis of others statements about it, Except to the extent that the truth claims are played out in your life or not.

    We are equal in that regard. However, I can tell you that the truth claims of the Bible are played out daily in my life in profound ways. In that you do not make a practice of testing Biblical truth claims, you cannot say whether or not they would play out in your life.

  • fritzy

    However, I can tell you that the truth claims of the Bible are played out daily in my life in profound ways. In that you do not make a practice of testing Biblical truth claims, you cannot say whether or not they would play out in your life.

    I’m not sure how one is supposed to differentiate between this and a self-fulfilling prophesy. When reading anything esoteric, people often find the truths they are looking for. If you find truth in these passages, more power to you but many people find truths that “click” with them in other, non-xtian sources.

    As for whether anyone here has made a practice of testing “biblical truth claims” existentially, I would be very careful when you claim anyone here has not attempted this. I personally spent many psychologically agonizing years of my life trying to see and feel these truths in my life and in my heart. Ultimately they all rang hollow, or were truths (such as charity, love, kindness, egalitarianism) that were better elaborated on in other traditions, many secular, ridding me of the need for all the woo-woo, as well as the more detestable parts (xenophobia, misogyny, being born into sin and homophobia for instance.)

    Watch out when you attempt to tell someone else, particularly someone you don’t know very well, what their experiences have been. You are likely to get a resounding “F-you.”

  • You are correct, and I apologize profusely for making any assumption about your journey. And you are also correct that many things (even prescription drugs) can have a self-fulfilling element. However, while your time of seeking ended poorly, billions find hope, faith, justice, comfort, joy, optimism, forgiveness, peace, love, self value, purpose, and most importantly eternal life, and much more through this path, that have found it on no other path.

    What was the breaking point for you? When I left the church it was because of hypocrisy. When I almost ended my faith it was due to five truth claims of evolutionary theory.

  • Pseudonym

    @Randy Kirk:

    I may not have put that well. What I meant to say is that few to no non-fundamentalist Christians would accept the proposition “that Christian theology is true” without being more specific. “Christian theology” is not a monolithic entity, and most debates about it happen within Christianity itself.

    @Hitch:

    No, Stalin and the Crusades are not parallels in what they are, but they are parallels in how they are often misused in debate.

    Incidentally, there’s no sense in which invading other countries is “Christian ideology”. Jesus, as you may have noticed, was a dirty hippie.

  • Revyloution

    I still think that religion/atheism debates are more about selling books to the faithful (on both sides) than about a serious challenge of ideas.

    That said, I really enjoy watching them for entertainment purposes.

  • Hitch

    @Pseudonym: I agree to that. I don’t think from a current day perspective discussion of either adds much. There is a point inside each that can be made in a current day context.

    But you misunderstand what arguments people make. Jesus was definitely a hippie, in fact I think Jesus, taken as social philosopher had very interesting things to say.

    The point is that religions (and other ideologies and identity formations) can be used to motivate people to do bad things. Not Jesus’ fault, but definitely the Catholic’s Church fault at the time. And the Bible does not help containing respective passages that are not Jesus, but old testament for example.

    See if the council of Nicea had decided that the old testament is scrapped, the revelation goes into the dustbin and perhaps also nothing but the gospels on Jesus’s life were allowable, it’d be a better text.

    But given that holy scripture is holy we get that whole problem.

    Basically atheist’s criticism is usually (a) political and (b) structural, and by that I mean there is some real word thing that religion has a bad effect and the obstruction to overcoming that bad effect is structural within the religion.

    So while Jesus may have been great, the bible can still be quoted quite sensibly to justify violence of all sorts of varietes. And by the bible being infallible there is a structural problem to those quotes and the justification that believers give.

    I don’t think you’d get a lot of opposition if we were debating the social philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, the mortal fallible man. That is like discussing Socrates or Spinoza. We can have an opinion.

    We don’t deal with opinion, even good opinion. We deal with Truth with a capital T.

    Makes sense?

  • charles

    randy kirk is a spewer of nonsense