Should be an interesting debate


August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists will be battling Scott McMurray of Faith United Methodist Church in LaCrosse on Sunday.

berkshiredebate

Isn’t the premise of these debates insulting in itself? McMurray is basically arguing that the man on the other side of the stage is evil…or if he’s not, he has already conceded the debate. Or maybe he’s going to pull an Oprah move and claim August isn’t really an atheist — I’ve seen that one a lot.

Comments

  1. doublereed says

    He doesn’t even have to do that. He just has to say “God works through you even if you don’t believe,” and then basically say that he isn’t ‘Without God.’

    Or he could just immediately concede the debate but then talk about why God is awesome and cool and fluffy.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’m with doublereed.

    The zinger McMurray is likely to bring?

    God exists, therefore it is impossible to be good without god, b/c we have god.

    I decline to argue whether or not it would be possible to be good without god in a universe where no god existed, as that is not the question before us tonight.

    Yeah. Color me unsurprised when that happens.

  3. greg1466 says

    I’m getting tired of this as a debate subject. As PZ and other commentors have already pointed out, it is really a non-starter of a question to begin with. From the atheist side, “I don’t believe in God and I’m good.” From the theist side,” God exists whether you believe in him or not, so you can’t demonstrate being good without him.” In either case, it is a one statement debate.

  4. Jim Phynn says

    I personally find myself amazed when people who do believe in god, find themselves doing good deeds. Wouldn’t it be a better question to ask, to determine if people can be good in spite of believing in god?

  5. Doug Little says

    Really… there are still debates about this?

    I’d like to see a debate where the question.

    Would you be a murdering scumbag if you didn’t believe that you would suffer eternal punishment for doing so?

    Is asked.

  6. sherylyoung says

    My only real exposure to church growing up was a Methodist church. I recall it being pretty mellow. Movies, dancing etc were okay. I had some weird times in Sunday School because I thought Judas had gotten a raw deal — he only did what “prophecy” led him to do you know. After about 8yo I didn’t have to go anymore, and only went to the main service so my grandmother didn’t have to go alone.

    My grandpa was an atheist and had far more influence on me and he was married to my grandma after all. But Grandmother quit church herself after Grandfather died because the minister refused to conduct a service for him. So…

    Nevermind.

  7. mothra says

    August is one of those people who could ‘out nice’ a pastor who is trying to be nice. Depending on the degree of fanaticism of his opponent, August could win by being his cherubic self.

    Once on a radio talk show, Richard Dawkns asked an irrate caller if fear of god was the only thing keeping him from theft, rape, murder. The caller said “Yes.”

  8. says

    Yeah, I’d like to see this turned around: “Can there be good WITH god?”

    I’d like to hear religious people justify the god-driven “good” of bloody holy wars, slavery, ritual genital mutilation of boys and girls, denial of comprehensive health care for women and girls, persecution unto death of women, gays and others whose biology is at odds with ignorance-based scripture, desctruction of fact-based education, etc. etc. etc.

    Most atheists I know, including this commnuity here, put their energies and intellects into learning about and understanding our world, with the goal of improving life for everyone. How many atheists have started wars, or martyred themselves or others, or mutilated children, or denied care to people who believe differently, or rejected people because of their biology, skin color, etc., in order to defend or justify atheism, or to appease a fictional atheist character?

    “Good without God”? Uh huh.

    How about “Better without God”?!

  9. says

    Well, when you look at the weapons each of the debaters will bring, you know who’s going to win… I mean, the power of the atom versus a wooden cross? C’mon, that’s not even a fair fight.

    (Oh and also: the arguments! ;) )

  10. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Quodlibet@8,

    Now there’s a debate I’d go see: How does not believing in god(s) make you a better person?

    To start with, I know that I and I alone am responsible for what I do and believe. I do not have a Sky Daddy I can cite as an infallible authority that just happens to agree with all my prejudices.

  11. Rey Fox says

    Really… there are still debates about this?

    On college campuses full of naive students away from home for the first time? Heck yes.

  12. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    August Berkshire is not the one who should be answering this question, he should be the one asking how bad exactly would Scott McMurray be without his god.

  13. Sastra says

    The problem with this topic — well, one problem with it — is that the question “Can we be good without God?” is open to several interpretations. Theists like to switch between them, so that if you answer one meaning of the question they can claim that no, you don’t get it, the issue is really something else — which, when responded to, somehow magically morphs back into what you thought was the original complaint.

    1.) “Can we be good without God?” = if we don’t believe in God, is there any motivation to do right and avoid wrong?
    2.) “Can we be good without God?” = if we don’t believe in God, can we understand right and wrong?
    3.) “Can we be good without God?” = if there is no God, can anything be judged right or wrong?
    4.) “Can we be good without God?” = if there is no God, can anything be right or wrong in truth?
    5.) “Can we be good without God?” = if there is no God, then how do we explain where our understanding of right and wrong came from?
    6.) “Can we be good without God?” = if we don’t believe in God are we less motivated to do right and avoid wrong?
    7.) “Can we be good without God?” = if we don’t believe in God are we less likely to be reverent, faithful., appreciative, and grateful for God’s love?

    Okay, that’s just 7 different questions off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more variations out there. And they all have to be approached and responded to with different points.

    Q: So which question is the pastor really asking?
    My best guess: ALL OF THEM.

    They’ll either be swapped for each other as if they’re the same question and duh, you atheists just don’t GET the real problem … or it will be a roll call, down the list, in the hopeful expectation that if any answer isn’t quite as good as one of the other answers then yeah, that’s the weak spot all right.

    August probably already expects this. He’s a veteran.

  14. busterggi says

    If a theist really believes one cannot be good without a belief in god why would he/she have such a debate?

    Surely they would be afraid their opponent would just up & murder them what with being godless & all.

  15. klatu says

    Well, the Euthyphro dilemma kinda makes god obsolete to morality. If we accept that god(s) exist we are left with two possibilities: 1) god decides what is good. or 2) god does not decide what is good.
    In the first case, you need god to be good. But being good is equivalent with unquestioning obedience to the arbitrary wims of a celestial monarch.
    In the second case, goodness exists without god.

    Debate over.

  16. August Berkshire says

    Thanks PZ for promoting this! To be fair, the debate title was mutually agreed upon as the one that would best draw an audience. Debates are never about changing your opponent’s mind, they are about getting audience members on the fence over to your side. Technically it’s true that between Euthyphro’s Dilemma and demonstrating that a person can be good without god-belief that the debate would be over. But this is a teaching opportunity, to explain to people where morality really comes from. That will make it easier for some to let go of their god. If we can just “save” one person from god, it will make it all worthwhile.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Debate is whatcha put on de hook to catch de fish.

    Once on a radio talk show, Richard Dawkns asked an irrate caller if fear of god was the only thing keeping him from theft, rape, murder. The caller said “Yes.”

    …Wow.

    Okay, that’s just 7 different questions off the top of my head.

  18. August Berkshire says

    I once debated a pastor who said that the only thing that kept him from cheating on his wife was his belief in God. And his wife was sitting in the audience! I felt sorry for her. Hey, guy, ever hear of something called “love”? I didn’t respond because I didn’t need to; he had done my job for me.

  19. barbara4 says

    My Christian brother started a debate with me by saying that as a theistic atheist, I had a problem. Where he planned to go with this was: I try to live a moral life; morals come from God; therefore, I believe in God whether I say so or not. Where we ended up going with this was, after several detours, was that there are ways for morals to evolve, both genetically and culturally. Possible sources include mammalian care of offspring being extended to other kin and reciprocal altruism in social animals. He agreed that this was possible, though he doesn’t really believe this actually is the source of human morality.

    I tried also to convey that he meant “moral atheist”, not “theistic atheist”. Using the term “theistic atheist” seems like a cheat in a debate (assume what you’re arguing is true, and voila! you win) and an insult, since a self-proclaimed atheist who believes in God is either a liar or an idiot.

  20. Rey Fox says

    Barbara: That’s what we in the sophisticated atheomolology business call “bullshitting”.

    Some might also call it “begging the question”, but I think it’s high time we retired that phrase.

  21. poxyhowzes says

    sherylyoung #6

    My grandmother was the daughter of a Methodist minister and the mother of another. In her house (and in our church at the time), regular playing cards weren’t allowed, although games like “Flinch” were. The church owned a pool table with pockets, so apparently there was no “trouble in River City.” Dice were also forbidden, and I never knew of a dance happening in or sponsored by the Church. All this immediately post WWII and on through the Korean “Police Action.” — pH

  22. poxyhowzes says

    Jim Phynn #$:

    Doing the occasional (or frequent) good deed cannot be used as the definition of “good,” if some gods gave us both “free will” and the ability to exercise it.

    In that case, some of our deeds will be found “good” by that/those gods, and some will not. We call the former “good” and the latter “bad” deeds, BUT we have No Idea AT ALL which is which, since the gods who gave us Free Will never report back to us while we are living.

    So I think it necessary to take a William Lane Craig – ish definitional approach: If we exercise the Free Will ™ that the god(s) gave us, then we are “good. If not, we are being evil, since we are denying a gift of the gods.

    This, of course, renders the whole argument undebatable. As the bible says, we will be judged on the judgment day, and not before, (and, as the bible does not go on to say) the standard of that judgment will be whatever definition of “good” and “evil” the gods have on that particular occasion. — pH

  23. August Berkshire says

    If God had given us a coherent, unambiguous, noncontradictory, evidence-based message we might be able to follow it.

  24. David Marjanović says

    I once debated a pastor who said that the only thing that kept him from cheating on his wife was his belief in God. And his wife was sitting in the audience!

    Gah!

  25. August Berkshire says

    My opponent and I were just interviewed separately by the La Crosse Tribune. Some people are going to wake up and discover there are options in this world.

  26. August Berkshire says

    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought: “August Berkshire is not the one who should be answering this question, he should be the one asking how bad exactly would Scott McMurray be without his god.”

    In the cross-examination portion of the debate I’ll be asking him a different question, which in a way gets at the same thing: On what basis does he decide to disobey his god’s orders to kill disobedient sons, non-virgin bride, gays, witches and wizards, people who worship another god, and people who work on the Sabbath?

  27. Doug Little says

    On what basis does he decide to disobey his god’s orders to kill disobedient sons, non-virgin bride, gays, witches and wizards, people who worship another god, and people who work on the Sabbath?

    Metaphor or Courtiers reply, you choose.

  28. cicely says

    Doug Little:

    I’d like to see a debate where the question.
     
    Would you be a murdering scumbag if you didn’t believe that you would suffer eternal punishment for doing so?
     
    Is asked.

    You mean you’ve never had a grown-ass man tell you, in all seriousness, that if it weren’t for God and his Eternal Hellfire Post-Life Party, he’d rape and murder freely? I have. I was stunned. And it caused me to leave a little, little wiggle room for Belief, ’cause srsly, Dude…if all that’s preventing you is the imagining of God’s Almighty Eyeball on you 24/7, then, please, Go To Church Moar! Right now!

    David:

    Debate is whatcha put on de hook to catch de fish.

    :D
    -

  29. Doug Little says

    You mean you’ve never had a grown-ass man tell you, in all seriousness, that if it weren’t for God and his Eternal Hellfire Post-Life Party, he’d rape and murder freely?

    Nope. But if one did I would be backing away slowly whilst not trying to make any sudden movements or eye contact, I think it would be a precarious situation to then call bullshit on that claim.

  30. jnorris says

    If August Berkshire DOESN’T massacre and rape the entire audience (in any order), he wins.

  31. anchor says

    There is something deeply wrong with anyone who requires a god to be a good person. Its as if to say they are otherwise absolved of the responsibility and be rotten nasty degenerates by default. What a lousy and self-loathing attitude religion inflicts on people, by simultaneously robbing them of their self-esteem and their ethical responsibilities.

  32. David Marjanović says

    I should make clear that I didn’t invent that definition of “debate”*… and my comment that contains it came too late for it to be funny in context. :-/

    * Good ideas are usually stolen. …Nope, I didn’t come up with this one either, though I might be the first to translate it into English.

  33. August Berkshire says

    jnorris
    17 October 2013 at 3:17 pm
    If August Berkshire DOESN’T massacre and rape the entire audience (in any order), he wins.”

    If I was following God’s orders I’d rape them first and then massacre them. But without a god, I’m at a loss as to what to do first.

  34. skaduskitai says

    It’s so stupid. You only need to look around and conclude the obvious for yourself: Ofcourse they can, I know several good people that don’t believe in god. Case is closed, debating wether these people can be good or not is just silly. We know they can be good because there they are.