Kirk Durston is a cunning wretch. How did he open his part in the debate here in Edmonton? By claiming that atheism was an amoral philosophy that led to the corruption of society, and to prove it, he cited a political scientist named Rummel, who he claimed, had shown that cultures built around a core of atheism had killed the most people in all of history.
If you actually go to Rummel’s site, Freedom, Democide, War, you’ll discover that he said no such thing. His thesis is that democracy is the critical factor in reducing war and the slaughter of civilians. This, of course, I could not do during the debate.
You will quickly discover that Rummel does not talk about this strange “atheist core” to murderous societies like Stalinist Russia or the Pol Pot regime. It’s nonsense; atheism is not the core of Marxism, for instance, and these were autocratic societies with a tyrannical cult of personality. It requires a distortion of history to make this argument, and imposing a personal bias on the data to make up this correlation. Pol Pot was a monster who killed millions, including religious people, in a reign of terror; Mao exterminated any institution, including the religious, to secure a monopoly on power; when I pointed out that Hitler was Catholic and Germans were Catholic and Lutheran, Durston replied that he might have been formerly a Lutheran (?), but he was an atheist. Why? Because anyone who was not doing as Jesus taught was not a true Christian. It’s an interesting piece of circular reasoning. It’s also an interpretation of his own.
He just ignored the fact that the only time in history when you could even describe any society as atheist was in the 20th century, coinciding with the emergence of industrialized tools of mass destruction. There are smart takedowns of the amoral atheist claim, but I was not prepared at all to deal with Durston’s simultaneous poisoning of the well and argument from consequences.
Durston is not stupid. He studiously avoided discussing any biology in his major points. Most of his argument for a personal god consisted of 1) atheists are bad people, 2) cosmology requires a beginning, and that beginning had to have been a god, and 3) the truth of the biblical accounts of Jesus. Would you believe he actually claimed the Flavian testimony of Josephus was valid historical evidence for the divinity of Jesus?
He’s a good debater, because he relies on a powerful tactic: he’ll willingly make stuff up and mangle his sources to make his arguments. I’m at a disadvantage because I won’t do that.
The lesson for me is to pin these guys down much more tightly on the precise subject of the debate. This one was all over the place, especially since Durston consciously avoided any topic on which I might have some expertise.
There is some confusion about what my argument in the debate was. Here’s my first slide, which outlines the two points I tried to make in 20 minutes.
Do gods exist?
There is no evidence of intervention by any supernatural force in the history of life on earth, and god-based explanations are inconsistent and incoherent.
Every biological phenomenon that we have examined in sufficient detail has been found to be explainable by purely natural causes.
Therefore, probably not.
I picked this approach because it does address the question in the debate (about the existence of an interventionist god), it was actually relevant to the major arguments for intelligent design creationism that Durston has a reputation for making, and I thought it would be a way to introduce some real evolutionary biology into the discussion. Contrary to the assertions of others, I did not open with any insults to Durston at all — it was to be a discussion with some actual evidence.
It was Durston’s first words that were insulting and illogical — a shot at calling atheists evil. I suppose if I’d opened by announcing that Christians were all stupid, we would have had equivalency…but I did not.
And yes, we talked past each other the whole time. The debate topic was far too broad, I thought we were going to argue about the evidence for design, but Durston wiggled away and talked about anything but.