You can now listen to the recent debate between Cardinal George Pell and Dan Barker. It will convince you that the Catholic church is totally lacking in any intellectual criterion for appointing cardinals.
Practically the first words out of Pell’s mouth are “God as creator and chance or the only two options as an explanation for the universe” and “For atheists the universe is a product of blind chance.” We can just stop there: what about the hypothesis that the universe was spawned from super-dense farts of a trans-cosmic supranatural cockroach? But then he goes on to the argument from selected authority (Antony Flew, of course) and fine-tuning. Pell is not a physicist, he barely understands the concept, so it’s rather silly for him, as a supernatural dogmatist, to rely on a physical argument. And of course we get the “cells are so complex!” argument.
Barker was good, but he was like a bandage slapped on top of a penetrating head wound. Better to avoid the damage altogether.
Dan Barker is aces. I have the odd distiction of having sung one of his musicals in church, prayed for him after he was on Oprah, and then read his book after I was an atheist.
(Obviously, I’m no longer a newt.)
I dont know if Pell made a wise decision to debate Dan Barker, who has been there, done that, got the Tshirt and the DVD, and transcended that stuff eventually and left behind the whole thing.
He is not only more clever, but also more bible-literate, which is sort of a worry….Or would be, if I was a catholic cardinal.
John Morales says
Hm. Hard to disprove that one, even with Occam’s Razor.
Damnit! Stop screwing with us! :|
Personally, I love it when they only give those two choices and then say that I can’t prove God doesn’t exist. Well, I say I can’t prove that there is not even the slightest of possibility of a creator is true. I also can’t prove to you the world isn’t secretly run by an evil cadre of vampire elves. I can’t prove that bigfoot isn’t able to slip in and out of the prime material plane at will and may be watching me type this. I can’t prove that our entire world isn’t some experiment in virtual reality run by a vastly intelligent algae species. It is up to a theist to prove God does exist in a provable repeatable study.
That some idea of a creator couldn’t be constructed to fit the evidence isn’t relative. Let’s assume there is a creator. There is a vast gulf between a “first cause” creator and Yahweh of the old testament. Just because you may be able to take a single false step towards theism, you cannot just leap the light years forward to a reality containing Jehovah.
Theists like to insist we must take that first step and then assume their journey of proof is over.
Blessed Atheist Bible Study @ http://blessedatheist.com/
Emily 77 says
I wonder if Pell thinks God is a product of blind chance.
Has there been any discussion on Dan Barker’s recent interview on the Daily Show where they A. Made him look silly or B. Made himself look silly.
I couldn’t watch past the first few minutes. I started shouting at the screen. Why does anyone think these ‘arguments’ (using the term loosely) are compelling or validating? He might as well sing a hymn for all the intellectual value his drivel contains.
I’m surprised that the Aussie Catholics let Pell out to speak. Even the members of religious orders in Sydney don’t claim that he’s some intellectual heavyweight.
I’ve heard him speak several times at various Sydney Catholic schools – all the teachers and students invariably groan and roll their eyes. In 2003 I listened to him equate Islam with materialism: his argument was literally based on the fact that both “Mohammed” and “Mammon” both begin with the same letter.
Stephen, Lord of the flies says
You’ve got to give him credit for knowing his cheap debating tricks though. The best arguments are not necessarily the most convincing, but the ones least likely to be rebutted. Given Barker’s background as a preacher, I’m guessing the Pell know he would be torn apart with his usual theological arguments. His best chance therefore, was to use ‘science’ based arguments in the hope that Barker would not have any convincing comebacks.
It’s a dirty trick that exposes him as unwilling to engage in real intellectual debate, but that’s the sort of thing we have come to expect from Pell.
Kel, OM says
tbh, I’m glad that the audio is up. Pell may be a dishonest moron, but that’s no reason to implicate Barker alongside him. Think of it like the Thunderf00t vs Ray Comfort thingy*.
*thingy being a technical term
If someone starts a speech by telling you there are only two positions that can be held, you know they’re a damn liar and they’re setting up a false dichotomy.
Or you’re at a binary conference.
Pell started off with a false dichotomy and a dishonest strawmanning of both atheists and agnostics. Will listen to the rest later.
cartman86 | March 18, 2010 6:34 AM:
It came up in the endless thread some days ago. It was inconsistent with the other things Dan Barker has said and written about the Mother Teresa stamp issue.
PZ Myers says
Barker mentioned it in some conversations we had, too. It was heavily edited — they talked for hours about the whole issue, and then it was edited down to about 3 sentences for maximum humor value, at his expense.
It’s what the show does, you know.
It does go some way to explaining why Oz is so flammable in summer though.
AJ Milne says
Having more than a few times found myself laughing out loud at the ‘but you can’t disprove it’ gambit, it now seems to me I should probably start a database of ‘other things you can’t disprove’, just for convenience’s sake…
–Elvis is alive and well but was made invisible by transdimensional space aliens who seriously love rockabilly and thus wished to make him immortal. He now resides on Pluto, from whence he is now beaming a message into my brain.
(This message currently being received is: slap the stupid wank standing in front of you silly for trying to pull the ‘but you can’t disprove it’ right in front of you; Da King sez it’s time they left the building.)
–Jimmy Hoffa’s body was never found because actually Jimmy Hoffa was working for the Illuminati, had been compromised, and had to be taken back to Planet X to protect the Caramilk secret.
–Mikhail Gorbachev’s real name was Ernie, but since the Kremlin figured ‘Ernie, General Secretary’ lacked a certain gravitas, they erased all evidence of this unpleasant fact.
(/… feel free to append to this list at your leisure.)
Rev. BigDumbChimp says
The RoachFart theory.
Pell is in the curious position of being a celebrated “expert” on everything. After all, as a high-ranking prelate in a celibate priesthood, he is automatically qualified to provide married couples with marital advice. Once it’s been established that complete ignorance is a qualification for expertise, the doors are wide open. Pell can now hold forth on physics, climate change, evolution, cosmology, French cuisine, and child-rearing. The possibilities are mindless!
And, of course, it’s fun to realize that I am at least as qualified as a Roman Catholic cardinal to solve the problems of the world.
Pope Maledict DCLXVI says
John M @ #3,
there’s this guy at the door called Bertrand whose turned up with a teapot, talking about parsimony. Seems like a strange blend of tea to me. :-þ
What is “blind chance”?
Playing bingo with unmarked pingpong balls? Roulette while blindfolded?
Brian English says
Pell can now hold forth on physics, climate change, evolution, cosmology, French cuisine, and child-rearing. The possibilities are mindless!
When Ian Plimer’s book ‘Heaven + Earth’ came out. Pell declared something along the lines that finally the doomsayers were shown to be wrong and real science would come to the fore.
Brian English says
Roulette while blindfolded? Getting into a pickup with half-a-dozen drunk good ol’ boys with loaded rifles on a bumpy trail?
trans-cosmic supranatural cockroach? Now you’re just getting hung up on nomenclature. You’re perfectly free* to call God that if you wish.
People can believe that an “un-moved mover” present at the creation of THE REST of the universe continues to exist and has purpose. Philosophicly though, I’m not sure what that really get one. If God created the universe, where did God come from? Certainly, the universe is manifestly unjust, and by all appearances is profoundly indifferent to our existance. So the CONTINUED existance of the Creator or its intrest in our actions should not be assumed a priori.
As for the oft repeated whine that “Without God, how can your morality have any ultimate basis?” I would reply “How does the existance of God help create a basis for morality?” Unless your very definition of morality is “Sucking up to the powerful,” a notion that I explicitly reject.
* In the US, I wouldn’t try that in say, Saudi Arabia.
Brian English says
“un-moved mover” Didn’t Newton deal with that? Things don’t need a mover, either they’re moving relative to something else or not…..
Pell says at 21:20 of the first part that every animal for 600 billion years has had the same body plan, excluding jellyfish.
Seriously, what the fornicate is wrong with him? Why didn’t the entire audience laugh him off of the stage? Am I missing something?
Just a small experiment:
PZ: And of course we get the “cells are so complex!” argument.
But how complex is “so complex”? It’s presumably higher than PARITY, but how much? RE? NP? P? Regardless, merely because resulting structures are complex, does not require the rules be complex themselves. Which means that a simple algorithm like evolution could be the underlying rule for producing something as complex as a cell. (Duh.)
I suspect introducing the foundations of computational complexity somewhere in K-8 math might help people grasp how very simple rules (like evolution) can produce immense complexity. The concepts mostly aren’t that hard (although the full implications ARE), so the difficulty probably won’t be teaching students to remember, understand, and apply at least the basics (although being able to analyze and evaluate are probably at least high school level).
The hard part would be in convincing education boards (and the electorate they answer to) that mathematical complexity is something students ought to be prodded into learning. The “most students have no use for knowing X” argument gets raised by the unwashed masses even for things like balancing chemical equations and evolutionary biology, and grandparents are still whining about the “New Math”, so my hopes aren’t that high for this.
(They’ll probably be drawing back the firing hammers on their old revolvers in response….)
simonator: As for the oft repeated whine that “Without God, how can your morality have any ultimate basis?” I would reply “How does the existance of God help create a basis for morality?”
It’s a question about the is-ought divide. The existence of an omnipotent creator God allows him to create an is-ought bridge by fiat. That part is fairly straightforward (aside from the logical inconsistencies inherent in “omnipotent”). The catch is, this leaves the question of how you identify that such-and-such IS the bridge said deity created; still tricky, which renders the crossing again uncertain.
(My response to the original question would be “via a Cantor-style diagonalization argument”. This needs no Gods, but requires much math.)
Which god/gods started our known universe?
Why did this god have a need to create a univers or humans?
If an all loving god – why use evolution to eventually create humans?
If belief in god and his kid Joshua (via statutory rape of a 13 year old Palestinian virgin) as well as the third wheel holy ghost is so important – why create no evidence of their existence?
Why can all feelings of transcendence, the presence of god etc… be physically created by manipulation ofour brain ie angular gyrus, parietal lobes etc…..
Mike in Ontario, NY says
Ha PZ, nice shout-out to Kilgore Trout’s “Venus on the Half-Shell”.
It’s my favorite creation/abiogenesis story.
“We can just stop there: what about the hypothesis that the universe was spawned from super-dense farts of a trans-cosmic supranatural cockroach?”
Pell was always an apologist for the catholic churche’s excesses in Australia, helping paedophile priests to avoid prosecution, and for the ‘slave-camps’ for deported UK children run by the Christian Brothers.
Indeed a beacon of . . . deception.
Have you ever seen a little kid reaching up above his head to illustrate “SO BIG”? “So complex” is like that.
If the creator of the universe is who he says it is, isn’t that by blind chance? There are infinitely many possible deities, and nothing about the “unmoved mover” argument necessitates the qualities he ascribes to his creator, other than existing and being capable of creating a universe. Why should there be a god at all? And why should it be omnipotent, and omniscient and omnipresent? And why should it be obsessed with foreskins and sodomy? It would seem to me to be quite unlikely that a god like that would exist. If it did, it’s a matter of blind chance, as he puts it.
Things are the way they are, and they aren’t the way they aren’t. I could drop a deck of cards on the floor and look at the arrangement and ask “what are the odds that a deck of cards would land in exactly that arrangement?” Well, pretty slim. But it happened. It had to land in some arrangement, and that’s the one it landed in. The same goes for the universe. For some reason there is one. If there is a universe, it has to have some properties. Ours has the properties it has. Whatever the probability of that set of properties is not important, as long as it is greater than 0.
Shorter me: blind or not, a chance is a chance, and you don’t escape it by adding magic.
InfraredEyes: Have you ever seen a little kid reaching up above his head to illustrate “SO BIG”? “So complex” is like that.
Unfortunately, yes. However, I was hoping to suggest that we might try bringing the conversation up to the level of sophisticated adults. Or at least, of adults willing to develop sophistication in their concepts.
I only lasted about 3 minutes so didn’t even get as far as Dan Barker.
Pell defines the term ‘charisma fail’. This plus the obvious assertions made me want to pull out what’s left of my hair.
aratina cage says
First, I actually do not feel dumber after listening to that because Dan Barker made very cogent arguments (I hope to see more of him in future debates over atheism). But Cardinal George Pell pissed me off when he outrageously used our argument against religious nuttery against us by telling Dan Barker to step outside the window (apparently some height off the ground) to test how poor nature’s grammar is concerning the law of gravity. That has nothing to do with theism or Christianity—nothing whatsoever!
In fact, it demonstrates that Dan Barker was on the right track about theologians using bad grammar because they usurp scientific words, theories, and laws to falsely use as evidence for their cockamamie beliefs; it’s all word salad and hand-waving as far as I can tell with virtually no insight into reality other than how a warped mind (theirs) thinks.
If any of a number of fundamental universal constants were just slightly different, cockroaches as we know them could not live in the universe. Clearly the Blattaric Principle proves that god is a trans-cosmic supranatural cockroach.
aratina cage says
Wrong, you do not need a voice box to communicate. All you’ve done is fallen prey to the argument for the hole from the puddle. It just so happens that air compression sensors and transmitters were built-in features of our bodies as developed through evolution, and so sound served as a rather robust way for our minds to communicate.
And not only that, but people do communicate using light (writing and sign language) and touch (Braille), and some people have synesthesia so they actually “hear” light. It isn’t too hard to imagine creatures that speak with light and hear it the way our brains hear sound. Think outside the box for once, please!
Pell goes on rambling like this the whole time:
etc. And he evades direct questions like:
David Marjanović says
An ultimate basis for morality? From Cantor-style diagonalization!?! That I want to see.
The age isn’t in the official Bible, it’s in an apocryphal gospel. I forgot which one, there are too many.
David Marjanović says
WTF. That kind of thing doesn’t fossilize, so Pell doesn’t know. What’s more, neither crocodiles nor birds are silent (though no real voice box is involved – convergent evolution produced an analogous organ).
“Why” is answered: “everything is the way it is because it got that way” (J. B. S. Haldane).
Purpose? Why does Pell believe there is a purpose? What drives him to this unparsimonious hypothesis?
The theme of the debate was “Without God We Are Nothing”. Pell agreed and he was 100% right: without his imaginary god HE is nothing. He has built a whole life on a figment of his deranged imagination.
Naked Bunny with a Whip says
I smell a new religion.
3 ingredients: ignorance, bad judgement, dishonesty
Mix well, with whatever proportions you want.
aratina cage says
That was actually the third piece of evidence of dinosaur stupidity (presented about 5/6ths of the way through the debate), the other two being their small brain size and that they didn’t produce anything, but that third one was given to Pell by a biologist who called voice boxes “miracles”. Oh how I wish you could school that biologist, David, assuming Pell wasn’t making up the story.
An aside to everyone, please note that all of my takes on Pell and Barker in #38 are paraphrases except for the longer part from Pell about dinosaurs and their lack of intelligence in double quotes in the first blockquote, but I don’t think I’m misrepresenting either of them.
beckysharper | March 18, 2010 6:43 AM:
The connections between “Mohammed” and “Mammon” go much deeper than merely sharing the same initial letter. Both words also contain an ‘a’ and an ‘o’. Moreover, both have two ‘m’s in in the middle (‘mm’). Finally, both words end in a consonant preceded by a vowel. But most damning of all: both words have their origins in Semitic languages!
Andreas Johansson says
Then you should have no trouble explaining it.
Stephen, Lord of the flies says
Sounds like the sort of cocktail to leave you with a hell of a hangover in the morning.
The recording doesn’t play for me. I do wish these sites would make the files available for *download*; we’re not all able to watch them while on the internet anyway.
Does anyone know of a download link for the debate?
Also if you are using firefox and the download helper add-on, you will see a download link to a flv file godVsAtheistDebate.flv
What I love about this debate, and Barker talked about this in his speech at the GAC, was how he purposefully called him “George” all the time.He said in his talk that Pell was given his title, robe, funny hat and powers and influence by appointment from some religious bureaucracy, and that without god and those garments he would just be “George”.
I thought that was hilarious, and very true.I imagine Pell would have cringed everytime Barker referred to him by first name…:-)
Reminded me of an 80’s British comedy sketch (possibly “not the nine O’Clock news”?) where a rabid Orangeman patiently explains to his wife why a video of the [then] recent Papal visit to Ireland should be banned with “can’t you see woman – pope is an anagram of epop which is a four letter word beginning with ‘e’…. and so is ‘evil’!”.
I spent fairly large parts of the question section thinking “Answer the bloody question already!” So much vague waffling and strawmanning, so little actual thought or engagement with the discussion.
Still, if this is the best the church can provide, they can’t last much longer, can they? :/
Easy-peasy. It follows from the basic properties shared by all philosophical principles:
(1) The enunciation of a philosophical principle, or argument, can be of infinite length (this is well-known by all students).
(2) By piecing together any parts of any collection of principles, one gets a new principle of the same type (the widely accepted “cut-and-paste” axiom).
(3) By changing a single word in the statement of a principle one obtains the statement of a principle of the same type (of course!).
Ok? Ok. Now write down a list of all the bases for morality that are NOT transcendent. Yes, all of them, like this:
1. It’s written in a holy book somewhere.
2. The Ground of All Being.
3. My granma used to say it.
To facilitate the task, you may want to write them down in alphabetical order. In any doubtful case, just throw the item in the list. And remember: this is a mathematical proof, not real life, so you don’t really have to write down this list (which may well be infinite — but it doesn’t matter!).
Then (let’s assume that you’ve just finished this Herculean task), take the first word of the first basis for morality and substitute it with the word that immediately follows it in your dictionary (in the unlikely even that that was already the last word of the dictionary, substitute it with the first one instead). By axiom (3), the resulting text must again be the enunciation of a basis for morality.
Then take the second word of the second item in the list, and substitute it with its successor in the dictionary, and do the same with the third, fourth…. with all the items on the list. So you get a new list of bases for morality.
Now the trick: Write down in succession, on a (big) separate piece of paper, the first word of the first item on this list, then the second word of the second item, etc. (i.e., write down the text composed by all the words you have changed). Call the resulting text “Text X”.
Text X must again enunciate a basis for moraliy, because of axiom (2). Axiom (1) is actually unnecessary at this point, but it felt good to write it down.
Finally, it remains to note that the principle for morality enunciated in our (possibly infinite) Text X does not appear on the original list, because it differs from item 1. at the first word, from item 2. at the second word, and so on, by construction. Since the list contained all bases for morality that are NOT absolute, we conclude that Text X enunciates an absolute base for morality.
Now of course the remaining crucial question is: What does Text X say?
Dan Barker says
Thanks, all, for the helpful comments on that debate. That was public debate #79 for me. After three more debates in Australia, it’s now 82 formal, public, moderated debates. I’m going for quantity over quality, you can see.
But after debating “His Eminence” the “Cardinal” George Pell, and seeing how uncomfortable he was being treated as an equal (Dan vs. George), I think next time I will make it easier for him by giving myself an honorific: Ordinal Dan Barker.
Ha. Well, we are all just ordinary human beings, all hierarchies being artificial, so why not call ourselves Ordinals?
Caine, Fleur du mal says
Hahaha, I like it. It also has the merit of throwing “cardinals” for a loop; not that doing that is difficult. ;D
Is there a video version, or does everyone only get audio?
The audio is now available for download at http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=1855 with the direct links at http://www.xt3.com/podcasts/353.mp3 and http://www.xt3.com/podcasts/354.mp3 .
Wow. I’ve never heard George Pell before AFAIK. I’m *really* ashamed to have this shitcock in such a respected position in our country.
I’ve now listened to the audio recording, and George is such a dishonest marmitefuck I want to scream. He is well-versed in the standard tactics: bamboozle with cosmic complexity, erect straw men of belief-in-chance, claim pleasant natural phenomena as being in the domain of religion, et cetera.
Redeeming all that, though, is that I got to hear Dan Barker calmly exposing all these tactics for what they are. Good on you, Dan, for treating George as a debating opponent (“George”) and not showing any undue respect for empty pomp.
Kudos, especially, for showing how rich and grounded an atheist outlook is: “… the fact that life is not eternal adds *more* value to life… life is much more precious as an atheist.”, says Dan in answer to a question from George. “I find that very bleak”, says George; the audience laughs in disbelief.
When flustered, George spent a lot of time lecturing Dan instead of asking questions as he was requested to do; Dan was the adult bringing it back on topic. “Is that your question?”
I hope to find recordings of some more of the many debates Dan has engaged in, if this is indicative of his quality against a first-order slippery mooneydamn like George. Thank you for bringing your talents down under, Dan, we really enjoyed them!