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Atheist evangelism and the problem of infrastructure

Hi.  I’ve got stuff on my mind, so settle in.  This might take a while.

Yesterday I was searching through my saved media files for something to listen to, and I came across this debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.  It’s about six months old and an hour long.  Lennox is one of those smug “academic” style theologians, saying — Ha ha — of course the universe is fourteen billion years old, nobody seriously contests that!  But philosophers and historians alike all agree on the historical resurrection of Jesus, let me name drop a few names and throw out some academic words to blind you with my erudition.  Etc.

As I listened to this discussion, something gradually dawned on me about Richard Dawkins… he’s not really very good at this.  Oh sure, Dawkins had a strong initial presentation, but in the second half, Lennox just goes steamrolling all over him, babbling about Genesis and miracles and the wonderful love of Jesus Christ, virtually uninterrupted.

A couple of times, Lennox brought up “famous scientists” (i.e., Francis Collins) who believe in God, and Dawkins responds by sounding shocked, saying something like “No, really??”  At that point I let out a big vocal “WTF???”  I’m not sure what Dawkins was sounding so shocked about… perhaps he was really trying to say “Seriously, you’re not trying to use Mr. ‘Waterfall Split Three Ways‘ to support your position, are you?”  But in the audio it came off as “Oh my goodness, I had no idea that Francis Collins was a theist!  This is a simply devastating turn of events!”

Elsewhere, Dawkins asks “You don’t honestly believe in miracles like turning water into wine, do you?”  And Lennox, in his cute little Irish accent, goes “I dyoo, and let me tell ye whae.”  Then he proceeds to ramble at length about the amazing creator of the universe and the awesome power of the miracles that are made possible through him.  PZ Myers had a positive spin on this debate.  He says: “Dawkins played it right, letting Lennox just run off at the mouth and expose the inanity of the theological position.”

I’m sorry Paul, I love your blog dearly, but in this case you’re wrong.  Dawkins did not play it right, and here’s why.  The inanity of Lennox is obvious to you and me, but a Christian audience just eats that stuff up.  Even a largely neutral audience will see Lennox as winning that point, simply because it wasn’t effectively challenged.

Meanwhile, as I listened to it, I could practically hear our own Matt Dillahunty’s voice jumping in: “Hang on… hang on… hang on…”  Most seasoned veterans of the TV show would not let Lennox go on for so long without backing up the discussion and trying to take a closer look at some of his claims.  Had Matt or I been there, Lennox would be talking about how amazing it is that the order of creation in Genesis perfectly matches what science has discovered, and we’d jump in and yell “Plants didn’t start growing before the sun existed, asshat!”

This is not an uncommon reaction for me, either.  About 90% of atheist debates I hear wind up with me grinding my teeth in frustration after a while.  There are just so many missed opportunities, so many places where I remember when the same topic came up on the show, and there’s a perfect one-liner to knock it down.  But the atheist just lets it blow right on by.

On the TV show, we regularly debate people with dissenting views, by making a point of prioritizing calls from theists and others likely to disagree.  Matt, Tracie, Don, Martin, Jen, Jeff, and I, deliberately do this on a regular basis.  (I’d also throw in many past hosts and cohosts, including Ashley and Keryn.)  The response to the Atheist Experience has been enormous since we gained a YouTube presence.  We routinely receive around 10, 20, 30 emails every day at the TV address.  The chat room on a live show day contains 200-300 people.  I think part of the reason for this is because we’re the only game in town: no one else does what we do, at least not as often.

As I said in my lecture about atheist evangelism, practice is absolutely the key to getting good at any game.  Only by doing such a thing repeatedly can you identify what your opponents are going to bring against you regularly.  You can have lots of theory behind you about what should work, but having to spit out a sound-bite within five seconds of hearing a common apologetic tactic is something that requires experience.  It’s not that we AE members have an inherent advantage over other counter-apologists; we just do it more.

If Richard Dawkins, who is a pre-eminent scientist and the author of a best-selling book on atheism, isn’t good at debating atheism in person, then who is besides us?  There aren’t that many people.  I thought the Rational Response Squad did a fairly good job against the tag team of Comfort and Cameron.  Reginald Finley occasionally hosts debates, either covering the atheism side on his own, or inviting guests like Massimo Pigliucci to act as a champion.  I can’t think of a lot of others.

I hate to keep picking on Richard Dawkins, but here’s a relevant bit of information: he has said on multiple occasions that he won’t debate creationists.  That’s certainly his prerogative.  In the linked article you’ll see plenty of perfectly valid reasons why it’s a bad idea to debate creationists: It gives them the unwarranted appearance of credibility.  Free publicity.  A spoken debate emphasizes style over substance.  These debates are attended by a stacked and biased audience.  Etc.

Dawkins is in good company.  Stephen Jay Gould wouldn’t do it either, and Eugenie Scott wrote a very persuasive article on talkorigins.org, explaining why a scientist debating a creationist is like an unprepared team going up against the Harlem Globetrotters.  Not only do they lose the game, but they wind up looking stupid while making the opposition look good.

Yeah, that’s all well and good, but it’s simply not true that “the only winning strategy is not to play.”  If you don’t play, you don’t improve.  If you don’t improve, you can never win.  Then creationists get the upper hand anyway, because they get to crow about how “everyone is scared to debate me.”

Here’s a big problem: atheists and scientists who would be debaters have no infrastructure to back them up.  There are a lot of professional apologists, who practically have a job description of traveling around the country debating people.  William Lane Craig springs to mind.  Also, I heard that PZ Myers debated Kirk Durston over the weekend.  I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but the name of the opponent stood out for me because I’ve heard Durston debate before, years ago.  I wrote the report on it, in fact.  So Durston is a pro at this: he flies around the country, and wherever he goes, he debates people who are not professional apologists; they are local professors like Sahotra Sarkar.  Smart guys, yes, but they have day jobs and lives.  They don’t debate for a living.  Par for the course, I think.

People pay to fly William Lane Craig to a university as the champion in a debate.  It’s one of the perks of having an organization that people tithe to.  Nobody pays for regular travel for atheist champions.  They don’t offer speaker fees for a professional on the other side.

Note that I’m not necessarily saying that the Atheist Experience team are the right ones for the job.  I do think that any one of us would stack up well against most opponents.  I would love to debate Bill Dembski on the identity of the intelligent designer sometime, and I bet Matt would jump at the chance to go after Ray Comfort face-to-face.  On the other hand, the TV show offers a lot of home field advantages that we would have to do without in a live debate.  Stuff like having a hold button, for example.  Standing side by side with Ray Comfort, there is no opportunity to say “I’m sorry, you have repeated this bullshit three times now, I’m hanging up on you.”  Also, it’s certainly clear that the people whom we debate regularly are amateurs, often repeating arguments that they don’t really understand.

What I’m saying, though, is it doesn’t much matter who the professional atheist debater is; there needs to be one, and he or she needs practice on a regular basis.  And it would also be cool if there were occasional conferences with round table discussions and lectures on how to do this properly, as well as a team of diverse experts to offer serious post-mortem analysis of any debates that happen.

There are many advantages to having an established counter-apologist debater.  Local professors would not feel the pressure to do something they are bad at, thinking “If I don’t do this then no one will.”  The chosen spokesperson would get to do regular debates, which would help him or her improve and gain insight into the process which could then be passed along to others.  The spokesperson would also gain some notoriety and be a focal point for interviews for the atheist movement.  Apologists would probably jump at the chance to try and defeat this person — which effectively flips the usual equation of not wanting to grant creationists unwarranted credibility.  Atheists don’t have credibility in pop culture; theists do.  In science, the reverse is true; creationists are the outsiders.

Here’s the bottom line: it’s all too common for atheists to assume that the ridiculousness of religion should be apparent to everyone.  The facts should speak for themselves, we say.  Well, they don’t.  Facts don’t speak, people do.  Apologists use rhetorical tricks and live debates because it’s a good forum to gain media attention.  So what are we going to say — that we should abandon this medium to them?  Why?  Are atheists just inherently dumber than theists when it comes to style and charisma?  No, I don’t think so.  This is a shortcoming that needs to be corrected, and the time to start is now.

Comments

  1. says

    I’d be happy to accept your financial sponsorship to go debate creationist asshats! Flying around the country, 4-star restaurants and hotels, and the chance to hand apologists their asses on a regular basis? Count me in!

  2. says

    I do agree that we need more experienced atheist debaters, but I also somewhat agree with Dawkins et. al. in that scientists should refrain for the most part. The way I see it, debating creationism is not going to move us forward in our scientific understanding–it’s just cleaning up the mess. Let the scientists continue to do actual science, and let those of us who are not experts in biology do the pest control. This is not to say that fighting back against creationists is not important, but it is a deliberate insult to creationists: you’re not worth the experts’ time, and you can be defeated just as easily by amateurs.

  3. says

    Nice post Kazim.It's also good for debates/discussions to come from a background where you've heard all the most outrageous claims before, otherwise you can end up being gobsmacked on stage.I remember hearing a discussion once where someone said "How come not a single Jew showed up for work in the World Trade Centre on 11/9*". Since the person hadn't heard it before they started saying things like, "I don't know, maybe they were just sick that day!", rather than questioning whether the statement was actually true. In a similar way, although so many apologetic arguments are laughably bogus, it can still take a minute (for me at least) to formulate a response to point out where they fell down.Small nitpick #1: The Earth is ~4.5byo, not 14. Off topic for a second. When I was reading the post I was reading it in your voice. When I got to the end I saw it was posted by Kazim. It's interesting to me that you can often tell who's writing by just their style.*Aka 9/11 for 'Merkins. Seriously, what kind of dating format doesn't preserve LSB–>MSB order?

  4. says

    Gav,Thanks for the correction. I changed “earth” to “universe” in the post.One thing I find useful when confronting an argument that I’ve never heard before but that sounds wrong is to take a position of very mild disbelief. Basically: “Really? I haven’t heard that before. How do you know that it’s true?” If I haven’t heard of it then it’s probably not common knowledge, so the audience probably hasn’t heard it either for the most part. I would want to make sure that point was covered in an aura of vague doubt, such that the audience is left with the impression that this is not a point for anybody. I could simply be ignorant of the fact, or the guy could be making it up. If I can’t look it up on the spot, then they can’t either. If the guy can come up with a source, probe for details about the source. If it turns out that the source seems to be credible, no harm done: you haven’t said that the claim WASN’T true, just asked for clarification. At worst, you’ve bought some time.I learned from “My Cousin Vinny” that court cases require disclosure of witnesses. If you’re going to bring a witness or a piece of evidence into the case, then both sides should know about it in advance. The parallel for a debate is that you aren’t necessarily obligated to respond to a source that can’t be verified during the debate. Either way, you should probably close the topic with “I’ll look into that later” and move on. This leaves the whole issue with the aura of doubt. And then by all means look it up later, so you can be better prepared the next time.In the case of the Jews not showing up for work, I’d be especially confident in this approach. Not only would I ask “How do you know?” but I’d also question that it’s even POSSIBLE to prove this claim. In order to prove it, you must identify every single Jew who worked in the building and verify that they were not there. Any single counterexample disproves the claim. The notion that not a single Jew died in 9/11 qualifies as an extraordinary claim in my book, and almost certainly false.

  5. says

    I think Shermer does a nice job in debates. He just tends to stick to a script, though. I wish he would challenge the other person more. Other than that I do agree with your post Kazim.

  6. says

    Susan, I’m with you that the ones most suited to debate theists are not scientists. I once heard an interview with a stage magician who explained why magicians are much better at weeding out dishonesty than scientists. Scientists are used to dealing with honest people, and expect their colleagues to admit an honest mistake. They are, therefore, completely unprepared to handle deliberate obfuscation.On the other hand, magicians are used to fooling people, so they can sense a fake when they see it.

  7. says

    Couldn’t agree more, scientists are terrible debaters, they’re too interested in communicating their own ideas rather than going on the attack. Look a this interview of George Monbiot (a journalist/activist) debating a climate skeptic -http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/world/are%20the%20glaciers%20melting/107930this is how you debate, you don’t let the opposition get away with false claims, you keep hitting them with it. I can’t imagine a scientist being able to do this.We need professional atheist debaters!

  8. says

    Just listened to the first bit…It seems the first slippery issue arises when they begin discussing faith. Dr. Lennox makes the statement that he has faith that is based on evidence…bzzzzzzz (loud buzzer sounding). Professor Dawkins rightly jumps on this suggesting “if what you believe is based on evidence, then why bother to call it faith”? Seems accurate when you consider the definition of faith as ‘firm belief in something for which there is no proof’, but is it? Can a person have faith based on evidence?Given, faith in god in so many discussions with theists boils down to complete trust without proof, a trust that is apparently more appreciated and rewarded than belief based on evidence. The implications of that prospect aside, there are also more wide reaching definitions of faith, in which imply hope, devotion and trust. But in these definitions as well, the faith aspect still hints at a lack of evidence.Let’s consider the discussion just prior to this discussion on faith. That was, he agreed that the kind of faith that was used by terrorists to fly planes into the World Trade Center, which he called “blind faith”, was “dangerous”. Having done so, Dr. Lennox’s next move was to attempt to distinguish his faith from those terrorists. To do so, he tried to eliminate the ‘blind’ element, saying his faith is based on some evidence. Well, it seems to me when evidence comes into the picture, faith goes out the door, for belief no longer requires it.Thoughts anyone? Can their be evidence based faith?

  9. says

    Matt Dillahunty, Kelly O'Connor, Richard Dawkins, (Penn & Teller) and (potholer54, DonExodus2 and/or Thunderf00t) Vs Whomever is stupid enough to step in the ring with them.Make them go all in, with careful definitions of what science is and how they have to present there ideas for it to count as real science.Follow the evidence where it leads, if there ideas are destroyed make them acknowledge they have to abandon there position.

  10. says

    Well said, Russell. I would love to see ACA organize a debate…we’ve talked about it forever. We certainly would have eager and well-prepared volunteers!Could even be a fundraiser…hmmm.

  11. says

    Great post, Kazim!I agree that our side needs some “professional debaters” who can cut the apologists down to size. I practically tear my hair out every time I see or hear a debate in which the theist invokes “God’s power” or “faith in Jesus” or some other wholly unsubstantiated claim as part of an argument on behalf of ID, creationism, or what have you. This routinely happens because debates aren’t fundamental; rather, they’re about origins or evolution or the problem of evil. If we are to debate, we should start at the very base of their house of cards: be it resolved, that there is a god. That can be followed up with debates about omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, the claim that the Bible was written by/dictated by/inspired by/pulled out of the ass of God, and so on down the line. Every claim of faith should be inspected and deconstructed. Holding a position based on any facet of unsubstantiated faith should be grounds for forfeit. Once the theists prove that a god exists, that he created everything, that they have psychoanalized him correctly, that he wrote a book, that everything in the book is correct, etc., then we can allow them to enjoy their flights of faith-based fancy.Of course, no theist would take on a debate under conditions which would require actual logic. That should be reason for us to cheer–and to trumpet the fact that logic is Kryptonite to apologists. As long as the theists are allowed to quote the bible as authoritative or spew out silly and misleading claims that they’ve never seen a crocoduck, we’ll never have a fair chance.I enjoy watching you folks on AE because (in addition to the power of the hold button), you never let anyone get past the first unsubstantiated syllable. Atheist debaters should do the same, even if it means breaking protocol and interrupting the theist at every turn.

  12. Barnetto says

    So…can we pay to bring in Ray Comfort or one of his ilk (maybe through the atheist longhorns on campus) then sic one of you guys on him?Record audio and video, post it to youtube for all to enjoy…But paying one of them would make me feel dirty. So let’s approach a fundie church and offer to put up a debate: they bring in the god guy and we bring in the atheist guy.

  13. says

    Christian apologists tend to stay away from the scientist’s strong suit. Lennox is not about to get into evolution, and Dawkins is not well versed in theology. I like Hitchens. When he’s sober, he can handle theology with the best of them. I recommend the John Shook v. William Lane Craig debate here.

  14. Sebastian says

    Kazim, to add to your list of atheists who have debated creationists:Christopher Hitchens did a long book tour after his book “God is not great” was published, and he tried to organize debates with a representative of some local religious organization in each city he visited. Lots of these events were recorded, and debates can be found on YouTube and similar services: Hitchens vs. Shmuley BoteachHitchens vs. Douglas WilsonHitchens vs. Frank TurekHitchens vs. David WolpeHitchens lecturing alone (when no opponent could be organized)More similar can be found by searching.

  15. says

    Yeah I would agree in that many who debate don’t do a great job. I think partly because the few that I have seen try to present their own thing rather than refuting the claims of the theist.Hitchens to me seems to do much of this. I love Hitchens (as well as Dawkins) but they both let things slide. I have seen Hitchens debate and when the theist says something that is easily refuted and helps the case, it rarely gets mentioned. Thats one thing thats great about AETV is the ability of saying “Whoa there, lets go back to the premise you started with. Needs a tad more explaining before we go on.” Obviously thats a little harder in a debate when you can’t interrupt, but at least take notes. Thats one reason why the RRS debate with Ray and Kirk vs Brian and Kelly was better as there were more refutations than presenting their own case (part of it was also how the debate was setup, as it was setup that Ray and Kirk had to show that God existed without using the bible, which of course they failed at).

  16. says

    We need everyone to be getting these skills, not just one person. That’s how the tide of history will be changed. It’s true you have to start somewhere, but I think it’s important to remember that one famous debater guy isn’t good enough.Also, maybe you should write to Dawkins and explain where he went wrong. I bet he would love the constructive criticism. Why not build on what we already have?

  17. says

    I watched this debate between Christopher Hitchens and Shmuley Boatech and found myself incredibly irritated that Hitchens didn’t respond to Boatech’s first 15 minute tirade with “Three words: Ad hominem attack.”The debate, once realised, is incredibly easy. Normally there is no correct opinion — the reason there’s a debate is that it’s subjective. Sorry, but in this case, atheism is for all intents and purposes objectively the correct position. Merely nail them down on one point and focus on that.

  18. says

    Dawkins had said that atheists aren’t the sorts of people who lend themselves to being organised; “it’s rather like trying to heard cats.” Needless to say, that’s a compliment to all of us (many religionists will see it as a symptom of selfishness and a refusal to bow to a common rule, but then many religionists also confuse unthinking obedience to authority as a virtue in itself).I actually gravitate towards Dawkins’ choice of not debating creationists, but I realise it’s a difficult call to make. Debate them, and they gain an air of legitimacy (the Australia philosopher/writer Kim Sterelny once quipped about a challenge he received from a creationist to debate him: “It might look good on your resume. Not so much on mine.”) Don’t debate them, and they will use that to show their flock that “the atheists/evolutionists are scared to debate us because they know we speak the truth.” What they have on their side is good organisation and a large following among the scientifically ill-versed. That’s a potentially powerful combination, and if scientists feel that they do need to counter this threat by engaging in debate, I certainly won’t hold it against them. I should also point out that there is a touch of hypocrisy in my defence of Dawkins. I live in Australia, and thankfully here the creationist noise-machine isn’t nearly so loud, so I speak with a lack of experiential insight into what it’s like to live in a society that is basically like a Third-World country in terms of religiosity. It’s up to Americans to decide their fate; it’s not my business to tell you how to bring about change. So I don’t offer the above notes as advise; you know the situation a thousand times better than I do.

  19. says

    I dealt with one guy who was “crowing” about atheists/evolutionists refusing to debate creos in an oral format. You brought up some things I didn’t.In the end, after a bunch of back-and-forth, I challenged him to a written debate on the forum I go to with one of the hosts there. So far, nothing. This guy’s too busy bashing atheists, esp Dawkins for some reason, on his several other blogs.

  20. says

    Again another very relevant & great post. Thank you.Firstly I’m an international listener/watcher to AETV & NPR, I strongly support the ACA setting up a debate with any apologist / theologian with public eminence or notoriety. I would be happy to contribute financially if necessary as I’m sure too would a significant numbers of your supporters. (If coerced correctly!!). Set up a “pugilist” fund please that we can contribute to.Please don’t consider Comfort or Cameron though, whilst I appreciate much pleasure would be gained in undermining their senseless and unintelligent fracas, I believe all serious apologists, theologians and atheists find them as hilarious and pointless as we all do. No credibility to be gained from debating them. We all appreciate that debunking a god hypothesis draws in numerous scientific disciplines from cosmology, astrophysics, geology and biology to name some but not all. Dawkins is expertly passionate about biology obviously, although he would not advocate he’s an expert on other scientific disciplines neither scripture nor theology. He may and does indeed miss opportunities to drill down aptly within the discussion unfortunately because often that’s precisely where the inadequacies, contradictions and fallacies lie. I agree with your sentiments we (non-believers, atheists globally) need persons with the hard and soft skills necessary for public debates, underpinned with solid, informed and broad knowledge of the common and unusual apologetic and counter apologetic arguments. I agree by regular practice such skills can be honed and perfected. Perhaps AETV & NPR are indeed unique or at least uncommon in that you do have the right skills mix coupled with passion and dedication. Long may you continue. I would also like to share an observation. Whilst theist / atheist debates are compelling and sometimes frustrating, there’s an element of credibility gained by the theist simply because the discussion nearly always seems to contain, on one side a theist with a god hypothesis, the other side an atheist who disagrees. The choice being the theist’s particular god or no god at all. A “fifty fifty” split no less!!When questioned, Lennox is quick to dismiss Islam’s miraculous claims, as indeed are we. “No evidence” he states firmly. Stephen F Roberts quote “I contend we are both atheists” springs to mind.Anyway my point is that I’d so much prefer to see intellectual apologists from all different faiths be locked in a room to debate vehemently amongst themselves to see which one of their religions, if any, takes the title of being the winner, the perfect and precise, underpinned with evidence, ultimate champion. Intellectual apologists are all masters of easily and fluently articulating their accounts of evidence, their philosophical and theological arguments, but let’s see them twist themselves in knots when they pitch their own arguments against one another, as they make their exclusive claims to the origin of the cosmos, the origin of life and the diversity of life. Furthermore I would expect the debate to be facilitated by leading secularists, the ACA, scientists and sceptics to avoid letting arguments settle in areas of logical fallacies. The end result can only be a single winner if their theologies are to be believed, or they accept that they are all flawed in some way. They should decide who the liars are, the lunatics, or if there is indeed a single Lord amongst them.

  21. says

    Excellent comments. I agree. The big problem, I think, is that atheism and evolution are such strong positions that people tend to feel like preparation is not needed. Then they get blasted by a slick and well-prepared believer. Kent Hovinid was clueless but he spoke so fast and spouted out so many “facts” that he seemed credible to many people. I think debaters on these topics should talk through the opponent and focus more on speaking to the audience. Simply “winning” rarely changes minds. The ultimate goal is not to put some goon across the stage in his place but to convince the believers in the audience that they need to reconsider their position. Again, great commentary. You should write a reference book for atheist debaters. You could do it easily. It’s all in your head already.

  22. says

    Guy P., good comments. I need to go buy your book BTW.Kent Hovind perfected what was already known as the “Gish Gallop,” spouting out a slew of unrelated points quickly. Every one was wrong, but it would take 50 times as long to show why one is wrong than it takes Hovind or Gish to say it. In a conversational format, I advocate taking them on in order and not letting the topic move on until the first point is finished. In a formal debate with time limits and taking turns, I don’t think there’s any way to make a good impression on an audience that’s tilted toward their side already.

  23. says

    Great post, Russell. I would add that Dan Barker is absolutely terrible at these sorts of debates, and yet (a) he gets invited to do them all the time, and (b) other atheists seem to sing his praises while he’s getting destroyed.Eddie Tabash is good at this sort of thing. So is Robert Price. But they’re two of the only people who do it well.And yes, I agree that what makes The Atheist Experience such a great show is that you guys do not let J. Random Christian bloviate for ten uninterrupted minutes about unprovable crap.

  24. says

    Juju says: “We need everyone to be getting these skills, not just one person. That’s how the tide of history will be changed. It’s true you have to start somewhere, but I think it’s important to remember that one famous debater guy isn’t good enough.”You have to realize that the two goals are not mutually exclusive. I hope that the Atheist Experience is in itself a learning tool for some people, where they watch it and hear something new, after which they are better equipped to confront those same arguments.If the debates were handled right, available on YouTube and widely disseminated and discussed through blogs, I would hope that it would provide the same effect on steroids. These days, with all the international listeners, I’m happy if we get one or two decent theist callers, amidst all the other calls cheering us on and asking for advice. I’d like to see the debates garner the same kind of attention, where the entire draw is the conflict.

  25. says

    I think that quite simply you have scared the “easy pickings” off, now that they know they might face recurring online ridicule. For example, that guy who recently offered the Darwin quote mine on the eye.As one of those international listeners, I should also note that continuing to develop resources like the Iron Chariots wiki can be indispensable. It can already serve as the reference guide Guy P. Harrison suggested.

  26. says

    Oh, and an added thought, since you probably will get to the related e-mail I sent in..2010.I’ve started egging various theist or creationist posters on Youtube or elsewhere to watch the show and call in. As a town crier of sorts. Maybe we viewers ought to get a bit more active in that fashion.(Addendum: you just gotta use Tim Minchin’s Storm as an intro at some point!)

  27. says

    I’d be happy to accept your financial sponsorship to go debate creationist asshats as well. Riding in crowded buses accross the southern parts of the country, greasy dives and campgrounds, and the chance to hand apologists their asses on a regular basis? Count me in too!I would also like to see you guys do debates with theists. I would also like to see you and/or Matt write a book or books. You are pretty much the only game ion town when it comes to being able to watch theists getting owned in live unedited “real time” TV. I would love to see Ray C. debate Matt D. just for the ability to quote lines from it in my “debates” with theists. I get a lot of good lines from you guys.

  28. says

    I agree with those who hold that debating creationists – or any conservative Christians, for that matter – is pointless. You won’t change their minds, you won’t change the minds of the audience members, and they’ll never admit defeat. If the atheist wavers, or doesn’t possess adequate skills, the Christians, like that asshat who was here the other day, will come away saying things like, “Habermas decimated him!” – because that’s really all they care about: winning. It’s all a game, a competition to them, with heaven as the ultimate prize.And if the atheist aquits him/herself admirably, and the creationist is made to appear foolish, the Christians will simply claim that it wasn’t a fair debate, the atheist didn’t follow the rules – whatever. We’ve seen them do it a thousand times.Not to beat a dead horse, but this is why I asked all of you recently why you bother arguing with Rho; he’s a perfect example. It doesn’t matter what you say; the Christian is simply never going to change his mind. Why should he? His belief system offers him eternal life, being reunited with his loved ones, along with the added perk that everyone he dislikes will suffer horribly for all of eternity. What do we have to compete with that? Truth? Reality? It isn’t enough for them.The bottom line is that most Christians will continue to believe precisely what they want to. It’s an addiction, and needs to be viewed as such. They are in complete denial, and will do whatever mental gymnastics they need to do in order to keep believing – and they will continue to accuse us of doing the same. The few who can be persuaded will find a way out on their own.

  29. says

    Yeah, I have to agree with a couple of people who’ve suggested this already- Christopher Hitchens. He already seems to do this and while he certainly isn’t a perfect representative but is highly entertaining. Frankly, I’m a little shocked he’s been omitted from your list.

  30. says

    I diagree with you there. Those that can be convinced need to hear the arguments first, or they will remain in the universe they likely grew up in. What will likely happen is that those with some doubts will buy the leading apologetics books, get an answer sufficiently obtuse to lull his doubts, remain in the fold and likely become the circular reasoning theists we see on the net.

  31. says

    Caffeine Addicted,My feeling is that they can eavesdrop on our conversations – blogs, radio programs, lectures, etc. – and get what they need from there.Debate is more about showmanship than it is about objectivity. As the others have said – Christian audiences come already convinced, and they leave the same way. They’ll take away only as much as they need to bolster their a priori conclusion.I think it’s a waste of time. In fact, if anything, it serves to empower them.

  32. says

    To Cipher:”It doesn’t matter what you say; the Christian is simply never going to change his mind.”That may be true in the case of Rhology, and possibly for 95% of the Christians in the audience, but it isn’t always true. Matt Dillahunty is one example of an exception (although admittedly anecdotal evidence), and there are plenty of people who honestly believe that Ray Comfort makes good points because few people bother to publicly state the other side.

  33. says

    Cipher, what is the point of having a TV show if it’s not about showmanship? In your opinion, is there any point to being on TV and taking calls, or should we just restrict ourselves to print format?My perception of Christians seems totally at odds with yours. The people who call in and say “Y’all are atheists? Do you believe in nothing?” are actually fairly typical. Most people in the world haven’t actually given a lot of thought to what atheism actually means, beyond registering that they are those mean people who are trying to steal Christmas.I have always felt that one goal of the Atheist Experience is to push information about atheism and correct common misconceptions. Does it also “empower” Christians when we just take callers?

  34. says

    Cipher, I’ll agree there is a point when debating theists is counterproductive and unnecessary, case in point Rhology. But even if a theist is hardened so that they would never realistically consider atheism, there is still the opportunity we can eliminate some of the bias harbored towards it.

  35. says

    Kazim, do you feel that you change their minds? Do they come away with the possiblity of a new perspective, or is it more along the lines of, “That Kazim is a nice guy; it’s shame he’s going to burn in hell.”I can see the value in talking publicly to other atheists, if the Christians come in with the attitude, “I’ll just sit here in the back of the room and keep my mouth shut; maybe I’ll learn something.” – but how many of them do that?I don’t know; perhaps you’re right. If you feel you can alter attitudes, go ahead. I haven’t got the stomach for it. After more than half a century of being threatened with eternal damnation, I’ve had it. I’ve lost what compassion for them I had. I won’t even converse with people like Rho any longer, not merely because I don’t think they can be salvaged (which I don’t), but because I don’t really think they’re worth saving.

  36. says

    Kazim, do you feel that you change their minds?ABSOLUTELY.I don’t expect people to go from fundamentalist to atheist in one big jump, but those smaller transitions are facilitated by showing up and being reasonable and interesting. Over the course of several years, a person may drift from being fundamentalist to moderate conservative Christian; from conservative to liberal Christian; from liberal Christian to agnostic; or from agnostic to atheist.These kinds of little transitions happen *all the time*. You don’t see 90% of the email we get, but we hear on a regular basis about how one of those transitions happen as a result of our show.I personally spent a long time debating a guy on a Creation/Evolution message board. He used to be a completely clueless young earther. He’s still a creationist now, but he’s retreated from young earthism to a safer, vaguer “intelligent design” advocate because he couldn’t support a young earth belief any longer. And once he confided to me that when his pastor went on a diatribe about atheists, he went up to the guy and corrected him.Would I prefer it if he became a an atheist? Of course. But in the absence of this radical shift, am I happy that he’s moved as far as he has? Definitely.

  37. says

    I learned from “My Cousin Vinny” that court cases require disclosure of witnesses.I learned from “My Cousin Vinny” how long it takes to cook grits on a stove.I agree that Cipher is too pessimistic. Many of us who are atheists today once were believers, myself included. It is true that debate is largely a form of theater. The “winner” of the debate is not likely to change the mind of the “loser”. And it is probably not going to change the mind of a lot of people in the audience, at least not right away. But sometimes it plants seeds in their minds that germinate in time.As for Rhology, it is not his religious belief that is so much an addiction as his need for attention and self validation. I bet if he were an atheist, he would be the same kind of person, only he would be going to Christian blogs, and just like now, he would be checking off his debate “victories” on some scorecard he has hanging on his wall near his computer.Rhology has a huge ego and needs to believe that he is right and everyone who disagrees with him is wrong. It just so happens that his ego is married to a belief in a divine command morality. If he was not a Christian, he probably would gravitate towards some other authoritarian belief system.

  38. says

    “My feeling is that they can eavesdrop on our conversations – blogs, radio programs, lectures, etc. – and get what they need from there.”I get your point, however the purpose of any debates is not solely to convince your interlocutor or the present audience, it is also to get the word out. In an earlier post I mentioned that I think many theists who have seen the show refrain from calling because they have seen their best arguments rebutted, and have no actual response. I think this is progress. I live in Greece, where the Greek Orthodox Church claims an over 90% adherence, where child baptism is almost mandatory, where cemetaries are controlled by the church and cremation is illegal on religious grounds (although that last part is in the process or might have already changed), where religious indoctrination is part of the state-ordained curriculum in the guise of ‘religious studies’, where until a few years ago, having your religion on your national ID card was an issue the G.O. Church fought hard for (and lost).Even after all this, we are hardly a fundamentalist country. Yet I would never had had the opportunity to inform myself as I have if it weren’t for shows like the AE or the NP, or debates on online forums or b-boards. Theist debaters often are proselytizers, in it to preach their gospel and not remotely connected to the discussion on a level that they might actually change their minds. However the getting the meme out there that there are atheists with responses, that the theistic claims are not undisputed is important, especially for people that aren’t in as pluralistic societies as the US or Canada.

  39. says

    Over the course of several years, a person may drift from being fundamentalist to moderate conservative Christian; from conservative to liberal Christian; from liberal Christian to agnostic; or from agnostic to atheist.To support what Kazim wrote above, from my own personal experience, I didn’t leap from Catholicism directly to atheism. I tried to find alternative god-based belief systems first. I still clung to a need for a belief in some kind of universal creator for several years before I finally came to the conclusion that there was no one “up there.”

  40. says

    Dear Rhology:Yes, you’ll notice that your comments are STILL banned. I can see that you were checking. I imagine that you probably think it’s because we’re afraid of your piercing insight. Let me toss you a free clue: The fact that you felt the need to close your comment with the words “…like a little girl” might have something to do with it.Am I being too subtle for you? Okay, let me clarify it in language you might understand: You’re not welcome to post here as long as you insist on acting like a giant dickhead. Go away.

  41. says

    You know, honestly, I’m not even intent upon “converting” them to atheism. If they’d just give up salvific exclusivism and eternal damnation – the most loathsome ideas ever devised – I’d be happy. The fact that they believe that billions of their human siblings will be tormented for all of eternity has caused me to give up on humanity. If it were just a few lunatics on a compound in Idaho, I wouldn’t care – but there are hundreds of millions of them. Probably well over a billion, if we factor in the Islamic fundamentalists. I see absolutely no way in which beings like these can solve their problems. It’s they, more than any other factor, who have convinced me that humanity is a terminal species, and that we probably haven’t got much time left.I really don’t like them.

  42. says

    Dawkins seems to be a good scientist but I was stunned by some of the stupidity he had in matters of religion in tht God Delusion. I recall him spending several pages mocking Richard Swinburne’s (Oford theologian) theodicy and piece on the explanatory power of theism without presenting any kind of objection.I also was frustrated when he spent several pages mocking the ontological argument(has he even heard of any of the modern formulations of it?) without even making a refutation.He’s big on rhethoric but small on substance.I also heard the debate went badly for PZ. He expected some sort of argument from biology but Durston steered clear of that field.William Lane Craig rules though. The first debate I saw was between him and Bart Ehrman. He pwned Bart Ehrman with probablity calculus. It was sick.Best debate ever.

  43. says

    I was wondering, Thinker, if you could enlighten us with these arguments that you find so persuasive.1. Exactly what was it about Richard Swinburne’s theodicy that you think stands as unchallenged evidence for the existence of God?2. On which points do you feel that PZ lost? How is it that Durston’s failure to make arguments against biology in front of a trained biologist isn’t just an example of Durston chickening out?3. I know a fair bit of math myself. Please defend the notion that probability calculus supports the concept of a god.4. Got a link to this awesome debate, so we can see just how badly Ehrman was pwned?

  44. says

    MrFreeThinker:I also was frustrated when he spent several pages mocking the ontological argument(has he even heard of any of the modern formulations of it?) without even making a refutation.It’s circular. It defines God in the premises as an existent being, and then uses that for the conclusion. I can’t define “my penis” as “giant” and then use a magical argument to make it so. God is no different. To say otherwise is special pleading.Modern versions of the argument are all saying the same thing, and therefore have the same problem.Moreover, words and dialectic have no ontological value. One cannot create God with an argument. The words may be convincing or not, but they can never actually “prove” a truth.Is that enough for you, douchebag?

  45. says

    Not quite sure why “c” is any stranger than 90% of the other names here. I just didn’t think it mattered what I called myself. It was really just laziness on my part. But if I called myself Charlie or Cheetos, or Caroline, do you think you’d know who I was any better? Anyway, back to the subject, the entire reason I am reading and posting on this site is because I’ve recently been looking for atheist related material. I find debates and discussions between theists, deists and atheists very entertaining and enlightening.I think I’ve seen most of what is available on the web and I’m left wanting to see more. It’s an itch I can’t quite scratch.The debates most enjoy are ones where the theist has to specify which religion they propose and defend it. In my opinion, they are the easiest for an atheist to win (thus the most entertaining.) They are also the most honest because if the debate is generalized to simply whether some god exists, there is often a stalemate and no one can be persuaded that way. It is also disingenuous on the theist’s part because they don’t just believe in some god, they believe in a specific one, which is a far more preposterous argument.There is a particularly infuriating debate online featuring atheists Dan Barker and Richard Carrier vs. Michael Corey and Hassanain Rajabali. It is on google and I suggest that it should be watched to show what not to do. Corey and Rajabali are constantly rude and play to a home crowd. Barker and Carrier are unfortunately too meek to contest them successfully. Which is why I love Hitchens. He’s exactly the type of asshole who would have wiped the floor with them. Dillahunty also would have done a better job. Someone should challenge these douchebags to a rematch. Hitchens of course would be difficult to get. But Matt Dillahunty could contact these people and challenge them. Plenty of people on both sides seem to welcome the challenge, so let’s make it happen. I’d be happy to donate as I’m sure many others would.I dare you to watch this debate and not want another crack at it.Just search:Theist Vs Atheist Debate: “Does God Not Exist?”Notice the debate is Does God NOT Exist, which cleverly moves the burden of proof onto the atheists, which seems to me to be a cop-out on the theists’ part.

  46. says

    I can’t define “my penis” as “giant” and then use a magical argument to make it so. God is no different. Best. Counterargument. EVER.

  47. says

    William Lane Craig rules though. The first debate I saw was between him and Bart Ehrman. He pwned Bart Ehrman with probablity calculus. It was sick.Best debate ever. 1. That is a matter of opinion. You’re predisposed to agree with Craig. Ehrman supporters perceive the outcome rather differently.2. As far as math is concerned, you people think it begins and ends with Berlinski, who (as he recently admitted) is in your pocket for as long as the Discovery Institute continues to pay him. For a presentation of the argument for the statistical improbability of the existence of God, try Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up by John Allen Paulos.Kazim, this is what I’m talking about. This really isn’t what you do on your program. You’re engaged in conversation and argument; formal debate is more along the lines of being staged. It’s almost performance art. And they always come away saying “My guy mopped up the floor with your guy.”Centuries ago, Buddhist and Hindu philosophers used to debate points of doctrine – nature of the self, existence of a creator, etc. I used to manage a Tibetan Buddhist teaching center, and the resident lama once told me that the Buddhists won all the debates. I thought, “Oh, really?”, so I asked a friend, a young man who is a monk in the Tibetan tradition, comes from an Indian family and has a Western education (a rather unique triple threat) if there are records of these debates recorded from the Hindu perspective. He told me there are, and that the perception of who won them is quite different.This is the way people are.

  48. says

    This one is for cipher. I received it minutes ago in my inbox.This message was sent via the contact form on the ACA website:As a former Catholic seminarian, I learned more about apologetics thanI did the bible, so I thought I was reasonably well prepared to nowsupport my atheism (yes, you devils helped knock me off my Agnosticthrone…bless you! :) The defense rests.

  49. says

    I’m sure that’s true. I’m not saying what you’re doing is a waste of time. Again, as I said above – what you’re doing isn’t formal debate. But, I did read your post of this morning, so perhaps I’m wrong about that as well. I tend to focus on the negative, like this character J.K. from the other thread. He’s doing what he did on Florien’s blog – just keeps saying the same things, over and over. It doesn’t matter what you say. You can’t cut through denial that thick.”The defense rests.” Who are you, Strobel? “Case closed!”

  50. says

    Naw, if I were Lee Strobel I’d talk about this email in story format, like this:”I listened to the former Catholic seminarian, reeling in shock. Of course! I realized. It was all so simple! You WOULD think that a former Catholic seminarian would know about the Bible, but this can’t be the case! The piercing insight of his simple words landed on me like a ton of bricks.”But seriously, folks. :)When I saw I don’t care what JK thinks, I mean it. Whether that one guy changes his mind is irrelevant to me. What you may not realize is that JK does us a favor by presenting his weak arguments and then acting as if he’s won something. If you were to pick up a thousand strangers and make them read that post, most of them would come away with the same opinion, but a few would be saying “Gee, I have never heard that argument before but it’s TERRIBLE.”Not that this would sway a believer in itself, but it’s one incident among many.

  51. says

    I understand. The mere fact of his existence, though, depresses me utterly. He’s jumping through all of these hoops in order to justify a belief system that, ultimately, abandons billions of human beings -and he doesn’t really care, so long as he gets the ontological security blanket for a few brief decades. I can’t see how humanity can survive with millions of people like this. It’s funny; I suppose I agree with the Calvinists about “inherent depravity” – but it’s because of them that I do! I see their belief system as the quintessential expression of it.

  52. says

    I’ve spent a long time watching and listening to the shows (and a shorter time wishing the pre-show stuff made it onto the Podcast recording), and I’ve frequently made little mental notes of particularly good arguments, take-downs, analogies, references, and so forth. I do the same thing when I’m reading atheist books and blogs. It’s incredibly useful (though my experience with face-to-face debate is limited and lousy), and I wonder if it might be useful to folks like PZ and Dawkins as well.Here’s my suggestion: we put together a CD or video/audio file with a set of the best arguments, debates, glib take-downs, and so forth, limited to an hour or so (for easy digestion). We send it, along with a very polite letter to the effect of Russell’s post here, to folks like PZ and Dawkins, with hopes that they may be able to use some of the tips, tricks, and quotes to improve their debates with theists.It needn’t be a matter of presumptiveness, and I agree with Juju that they’d probably like the constructive criticism. The problem is a lack of infrastructure, in that we lack any kind of shared knowledge pool. In twenty years of debates, Dawkins might be as good face-to-face as the AE guys, but he shouldn’t have to learn it all through experience when we can just share the knowledge we’ve already accumulated.

  53. says

    @ KazimI was wondering, Thinker, if you could enlighten us with these arguments that you find so persuasive.My point wasn’t really that arguments were persuasive, but Dawkins brought them up and refuse to address them.1. Exactly what was it about Richard Swinburne’s theodicy that you think stands as unchallenged evidence for the existence of God?It was about the problem of Evil. Dawkins was talking aout the problem of evil and suffering. He quoted Swinburne’s statement that sometimes suffering brought people closer to God and let them show courage. Dawkins never really counters Swinburne and put out some appeals to emotion about suffering.2. On which points do you feel that PZ lost? How is it that Durston’s failure to make arguments against biology in front of a trained biologist isn’t just an example of Durston chickening out?I wasn’t really supporting Durston. I never really heard of him before PZ’s debte. But it was clear that PZ was caught off guard. It reminds me of Religulous where Francis Collins expected to talk about evolution but was caught off guard with questions on New testament history.3. I know a fair bit of math myself. Please defend the notion that probability calculus supports the concept of a god.William Lane Craig was not making an argument for God with probability. Bart Ehrman made some mathematically poor claims where he equivocated between intrinsic probability and specific probability with regard to miracles. W.L. Craig was able to use Baye’s theorem to show how his reasoning was mathematically fallacious. Ehrman was unable to counter Crag’s claims but made some backhanded ad hominems later on saying that Craig would be laughed at if he tried to bring his calculations on miracles to any secular university. W.L. Craig then pointed out that philosophers such as Richard Swinburne (a eminent philosopher of science at Oxford University) had also made similar calculations it was a moment of sheer pwnage.(On a side note Swinburne’s calculations on the probability of Jesus’ Resurrection and God’s existence are available in his books “The Existence of God” and “Resurrection of God Incarnate”)4. Got a link to this awesome debate, so we can see just how badly Ehrman was pwned?http://atheistmedia.blogspot.com/2008/08/bart-ehrman-vs-william-lane-craig.htmlTranscripthttp://www.holycross.edu/departments/crec/website/resurrection-debate-transcript.pdf

  54. says

    With regard to the ontological argument see herehttp://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6831(From article- I found this oart rather funny)"Dawkins chortles, "I've forgotten the details, but I once piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong" (God Delusion, p. 84). This is just embarrassing. The ontological argument is an exercise in modal logic—the logic of the possible and the necessary. I can just imagine Dawkins making a nuisance of himself at this professional conference with his spurious parody"@CAnd as to Hitchens, he seems rather sarcastic but sometimes I don't follow his arguments. For example I remember once he was ranting about how God could see what we did all the time in our private bedrooms like a dictator and how God cares what you do with your genitalia. Was he trying to say that people could have illicit sex if God didn't exist?And this would be a good thing?

  55. says

    Quick reply to one of your points, since I have access to Dawkins’ book here but I won’t when I get to work:It was about the problem of Evil. Dawkins was talking aout the problem of evil and suffering. He quoted Swinburne’s statement that sometimes suffering brought people closer to God and let them show courage. Dawkins never really counters Swinburne and put out some appeals to emotion about suffering.Oh, I see. Swinburne is trying to deflect the problem of evil by saying that sometimes suffering brings us closer to God, and Dawkins ridicules and dismisses it by bringing up the holocaust. He doesn’t elaborate on this obviously weak excuse, so you feel that he didn’t address it.I’ll elaborate, then. Swinburne’s claim that people get ill because “sometimes they need to be ill for their own sake” is just cherry-picking cases of “evil” which fall far short of the more accessible examples. Six million people gassed to death isn’t justified because God may have wanted to make the other Jews a tougher people — it doesn’t do a damn thing for the people who are already dead. And, since they were Jewish rather than Christian, probably in hell now, according to the doctrine of faith.Oh sure, I expect that your next step would be to blame Hitler on atheists, or at least the fall of man, but that would miss the point. Dawkins says that SWINBURNE was trying to justify the Holocaust through theodicy. That is simply so stupid that I don’t blame him for taking less than a paragraph to respond.

  56. says

    I wasn’t really supporting Durston. I never really heard of him before PZ’s debte. But it was clear that PZ was caught off guard. It reminds me of Religulous where Francis Collins expected to talk about evolution but was caught off guard with questions on New testament history.I’ve read some more background on PZ Myers’ debate. I haven’t seen it, but from what I’ve read it sounds like PZ did poorly. My thesis in this series of posts is that atheists and professional scientists have an inclination to be bad at the “performance art” aspect of debating, and need improvement and coaching. I don’t mind accepting PZ as another illustration.I know Bayes’ theorem really well, it’s central to some aspects of computer logic and data mining. I’ll read the transcript and get back to you on that. I’ve heard some of my own fellow presenters misuse statistics badly, so I’m not going to assume that you’re wrong about Ehrman until I’ve read it all.

  57. says

    MrFreeThinker:From Wikipedia:”Interestingly, Plantinga himself does not think the modal ontological argument is always a good proof of the existence of God. It depends on what his interlocutor thinks of the possibility premise.”So the most celebrated modern modal logic version, put together by one of the most celebrated modern theological wankers, is admitted by said wanker to not actually prove anything unless you accept one of its questionable premises (note: more than one of its premises are questionable).Modal logic is no more ontologically binding than any other kind of logic. “Proving” that something is “necessary” about the world using words strung together into sentences put into arguments that accord with the rules of an axiomatic system generated by humans is futile and ridiculous. Unless and until there is evidence of a deity, those words are worthless.One of the assumed axioms of modal logic (one that is necessary for Plantinga’s ontological argument) is axiom S5 that says that “possibly necessary” implies “necessary.” As an axiom, it cannot be proven. It is simply asserted and assumed. I see no reason to believe this axiom is true outside the confines and constructed rules of modal logic. Under this axiom, I can say “It is possibly necessary that the moon is made of green cheese, therefore it is necessary that the moon is made of green cheese.” Given that just about anything is possibly necessary, this axiom allows me to prove anything is necessary.This is what happens when you assign too much power to an axiomatic system.Again, let me use Plantinga’s modal logic formulation to prove something else (this is his formulation with a few key words replaced):1. It is proposed that my penis has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is very wide, very long, wholly able to satisfy women, and possessed by me in W; and2. It is proposed that my penis has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.3. Maximal greatness is possibly exemplified. That is, it is possible that there be a penis that has maximal greatness. (Premise)4. Therefore, possibly it is necessarily true that a very wide, very long and perfectly satisfactory penis that belongs to me exists.5. Therefore, it is necessarily true that a very wide, very long and perfectly satisfactory penis that belongs to me exists. (By S5) 6. Therefore, a very wide, very long and perfectly satisfactory penis that belongs to me exists.Let me check my pants…Nope. Just the same as before.

  58. says

    Akusai, I have literally brought myself to tears with laughter !! Absolutely priceless !! awesome !! Let’s try to define something into existence ! never works for me either.

  59. says

    Keruso:Glad I could be of service.Kazim:I’ve been thinking, and I suppose that monstrosity is what you get for praising the first formulation of the ontological argument for my giant wang. I apparently respond well to positive reinforcement.

  60. says

    @AksuaiI reject the idea of a “maximally great” body part. If you say yours id=s maximally great I can conceive of a much larger one, and a larger one that,..ad infinitum. The idea is not coherent.Plus your penis is a physical object and would require necessary space and time to exit, which is a problem too.

  61. says

    Modal logic is no more ontologically binding than any other kind of logic. “Proving” that something is “necessary” about the world using words strung together into sentences put into arguments that accord with the rules of an axiomatic system generated by humans is futile and ridiculous. Unless and until there is evidence of a deity, those words are worthless.Akusai,That’s a good observation. As I read back over my own notes on Kirk Durston, and also try to follow the debates by William Lane Craig, I see that as a major pattern. It’s the same thing I observed years ago when I read Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box.”Basically, apologists really like to pile on abstruse mathematical equations in front of an audience who is probably not going to understand them. They never choose to say things in a simple, accessible way when a more convoluted way is available. I’m trying to contemplate how to counter this effectively, and I’ll say more in an upcoming post.But basically, it always boils down to using pure math to “prove” the existence of God in a vacuum. No evidence. No observation. No experiments. Just equations purporting to show that the god must exist.

  62. says

    @AkusaiPlantiga says that no-one has provided evidence against the possibility premise while there was evidence for it.Even if we accept a 50-50 chance of the premise being true you have to admit that the theist is at least rational for believing in God and that there is a decent probability that God exists.

  63. says

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not willing to accept a 50/50 probability that God exists. That seems ridiculously and unnecessarily large.Are you willing to grant a 50/50 probability that Odin exists?

  64. says

    I reject the idea of a “maximally great” body part. If you say yours id=s maximally great I can conceive of a much larger one, and a larger one that,..ad infinitum. The idea is not coherent.Plus your penis is a physical object and would require necessary space and time to exit, which is a problem too.Translation: God is different. Special pleading.If you say your God is maximally excellent, I can say that I can conceive of something greater, too. Therefore your claim is also incoherent.Besides, I’m defining my penis as maximally great. There is nothing there to argue about. You can’t conceive of a better penis because mine is, by definition, as great as one can be. I reject your idea that any penis can possibly be better than mine.But let’s assume that only “transcendent,” “spiritual” objects can be used in an ontological argument. I think that’s a crock, but fine. I posit that Shmorkle is the most excellent possible being, and I urge that you accept at least a 70/30 possibility that Shmorkle exists. Shmorkle is more excellent than God; you can claim otherwise, but it simply isn’t true.Am I rational in my belief in Shmorkle?Plantiga says that no-one has provided evidence against the possibility premise while there was evidence for it.Nobody needs to provide evidence against it, and there is no evidence for it. You claim there is? Fine. Where is it? Go ahead and bring it on. Yours is the burden of proof.Even if we accept a 50-50 chance of the premise being true you have to admit that the theist is at least rational for believing in God and that there is a decent probability that God exists.I don’t have to accept the 50/50 split here any more than I have to in Pascal’s Wager. It’s an ass-pull of a figure that is used when there is no reason to suppose it is true to make it appear that it is somewhat rational to believe in God.

  65. says

    I was speaking to Akusai about the possibility premise. If we are generous and say there is a 50-50 chance it is true , there is at least a 50-50 chance that God exists, which is what Plantiga’s final point is.

  66. says

    But let’s assume that only “transcendent,” “spiritual” objects can be used in an ontological argument. I think that’s a crock, but fine. It would be incoherent to claim sort of necessary physical subject.I posit that Shmorkle is the most excellent possible being, and I urge that you accept at least a 70/30 possibility that Shmorkle exists. Shmorkle is more excellent than God; you can claim otherwise, but it simply isn’t true.If you define Schmorkle as a maximally great being, then we would have to admit we are talking about the same being. So would I say you would be rational.Please learn about modal logic and the possibility premise. Axiom S5 is widely accepted by logicians.http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-modal/Unless you are willing to go disprove modal logic now I think you should accept that there is at least a decent chance that God exists.Anyway my point was that Dawkins mocked the argument without addressing it.

  67. says

    No. Don’t ever fall into the ever too common 50/50 debate. Put philosophy to one side and consider the facts. There are hundreds if not thousands of gods out there in popular belief, not one. If you ever feel perhaps your god maybe real, pitch him against the other 5000 and suddenly you’ll see there’s a 5000:1 chance your god is real, crappy odds you’ll agree. Pitch childish logic against 5000 other arguments from childish logic and guess what you’ve got, more childish logic.When people recognise the sheer magnitude of gods out there, ontology become utterely pointless. Precisely Dawkin’s point.

  68. says

    Please learn about modal logic and the possibility premise. Axiom S5 is widely accepted by logicians.http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-modal/Unless you are willing to go disprove modal logic now I think you should accept that there is at least a decent chance that God exists.Dude, stop it. It’s embarrassing. I have a master’s degree in software engineering. I’ve studied logic, okay? Proposition 5 doesn’t say ANYTHING about what probability you should assign to the existence of God.Logic teaches you how to deduce facts or probabilities once you already know the truth-value or probability of other known quantities. Logic doesn’t make stuff appear out of thin air. It doesn’t tell you the probability that today is Thursday, or it’s raining outside, or my cat is hungry, or God exists. To deduce things about specific propositions in the real world, you have to actually gather data. Pure math and pure logic don’t make propositions true or likely in a vacuum. Do you understand?Anyway my point was that Dawkins mocked the argument without addressing it.Well, some arguments really aren’t worth much more than that.

  69. Martin says

    Unless you are willing to go disprove modal logic now I think you should accept that there is at least a decent chance that God exists.Or Shmorkle?This is why I think the whole focus on logic is a big fat red herring. Logic is not evidence. Logic is simply a set of rules and tools to help a person formulate arguments. But there is no guarantee that the thing you are arguing logically in favor of is actually true. “All cats die. George Washington is dead. George Washington was a cat.” That’s bulletproof logic. It’s also false.If I were debating, I start with the point that the focus on logic and mathematical formulae in theistic arguments is, as Kazim has pointed out, pure obfuscation. Dazzle ‘em with bullshit, as the saying goes. You may be able to use modal logic and Bayesian mathematics to construct an unassailable argument for anything. When it comes down to whether or not there’s an invisible magic man running the universe, just give me the hard evidence. Bullshit talks, but evidence walks.

  70. says

    Proposition 5 doesn’t say ANYTHING about what probability you should assign to the existence of God.I know. I was saying that even if Akusai rejected Axiom S5, he still had to understand that 1)It is widely accepted by logicians2)Akusai has no arguments against itSo he has to at least acknowledge a decent possibility of it being true.Pure math and pure logic don’t make propositions true or likely in a vacuum. Do you understand?I think it can. Logic can prove something if the negation implies a contradiction. Statements like “Married bachelors do not exist” can be proven because the negative implies a contradiction with pure logic.

  71. says

    1)It is widely accepted by logiciansOf course it bloody well is. It’s a necessary assumption for the logical system. To throw it out is to throw out the system, but that’s silly because it is assumed for the purposes of creating the system. It doesn’t make the system internally inconsistent, so it is accepted.2)Akusai has no arguments against itSo he has to at least acknowledge a decent possibility of it being true.It is an axiom. An assumption. A claim posited with no argument mad for it because it is necessary for the function of the logical system in which it exists Given its context in the system of modal logic, of course I cannot argue against it. It does not even make sense to argue against an axiom that is assumed for the sake of argument.From outside the system, though, in a different context, I am under no duress whatsoever to admit that it has to have any probability of being true. S5 is intuitively false. The idea that simply maybe being necessary makes something necessary is silly on its face.And you’re shifting the burden of proof. Again. Like all of you douchebags. If you want someone to accept S5 outside of its proper context as an assumed axiom of modal logic, then “There are no arguments against it” is not enough. There have to be arguments in favor of it. But there are none. Because it is an axiom.If you want to assume it for the purposes of the logical system, fine. That’s what logic is: an internally consistent axiomatic system. But don’t pretend that the system and reality are the same. That is, don’t use the fact that it is assumed without proof inside the system to mean that it has any relevance without proof outside the system. It’s like ontological equivocation.

  72. says

    he still had to understand that1)It is widely accepted by logiciansAnd this is relevant how? Whether or not logicians accept something has no bearing on whether or not that thing is true or applicable to the real world. 2)Akusai has no arguments against itExcept, you know, the argument he presented against it. The reductio ad absurdum? Where he demonstrated that it has no bearing whatsoever on reality? That argument?So he has to at least acknowledge a decent possibility of it being true.Why? You’ve provided no evidence to suggest that it’s true, only that a bunch of nameless logicians supposedly accept it as an aspect of a particular logical system. I wonder, do those same logicians all assign it the power to create reality that you seem to be assigning? I’m sure there are plenty of great, valid ontological arguments, but I can say with certainty that not a single one of them is sound unless its assumptions are backed up by real-world evidence. Since, you know, that’s the whole point about soundness. So, where’s the evidence for the assumptions underlying the ontological arguments? I think it can.You think wrong. Logical arguments can prove nothing about reality unless the axioms and assumptions are based in reality. They may be able to prove all sorts of things conceptually, but they have no bearing on the real world. Statements like “Married bachelors do not exist” can be proven because the negative implies a contradiction with pure logic.So pure logic can be used to prove that oxymorons are oxymorons. That’s quite the power there. I mean, it allows us to determine whether or not two conceptual labels with specific definitions contradict one another. That’s some amazing ability right there, and certainly it implies that pure logic is therefore able to prove things about the real world that aren’t based on semantics. Here’s a trick: use pure logic to prove the existence or nonexistence of bachelors. Go ahead, I’m interested to see the results.

  73. says

    Here’s an interesting podcast that relates to this topic. A guy from a podcast called “Reasonable Doubts” goes on the “Reason Driven Podcast” and they dissect a debate they’d had with a Christian the week before. There’s a lot of discussion about the tactics and rhetoric used by the Christian debater.

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