Oh, god, not that

Some of the philosophy students at my university have asked me to participate in a debate, on my campus, with a fellow named Perry Hendricks. I am like putty in my students’ hands, so I tentatively agreed, with the caveat that I’d like to see what proposition would be debated. The students have come back with their “specific” question. It is…

Does God exist?

I was in the middle of a meeting when that email flew across my view, so it was extremely difficult not to groan aloud and facepalm myself. Just too bleh.

My answer is no, of course, and I assume his will be yes. Are we done already?

The meat of any discussion has to be how that question will be answered, and I don’t see any hint of what approach will be taken, or what the epistemology of any answer will be — it’s just way too broad. I know how I’d approach the question, but I suspect we could easily end up talking past each other.

So now what? Do I say the topic is either ridiculously broad or too subjective and say forget it or go back and revise it, or do I just bull my way through the pathetic question, leaving no survivors?

I’m asking you, the readers, what you think I should do. You know what I think of debates, the only thing that persuades me to do this one is that it’s the students and it’s local.


  1. nomdeplume says

    “Does a god exist” might be a better title. The current one rather begs the question.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    Ask them to specify which “God” they want to debate about.
    … about which they want to debate…

  3. johnson catman says

    A more interesting debate topic would be “Do unicorn farts smell like roses?”

  4. chrislawson says

    I see it as an excellent opportunity to role model turning down a pointless debate for your students.

  5. azpaul3 says

    Local students. Local event at your school where you are a teacher. You already answered. You’ll go. It’s in your soul.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Say you lack a belief in gods and there’s no knowledge one way or the other? People despise uncertainty so discussing such a thing before a majority theist audience is for masochists.

  7. woozy says

    You know. If you are doing it for your students, just state why it’s unlikely and empty and you have no need for a god existing. And, you know, don’t bother trying to win. That barely seems relevant to anything.

  8. raven says

    It is not even the right question.

    It should be, Do the gods exist?

    Historically and even today, most religions have more than one god.

    Even xianity has multiple gods, the number depending on the version.
    For Catholics it is the Trinity, Mary, and satan for 5.

    The question, “Does god exist”, already has a built in bias.
    It assumes there is only one god.

  9. says

    Personally, I’d agree and then work to establish the basics of evidential reasoning to conclude that it’s irrational to believe in gods (I always use the plural in these contexts).

    But you certainly would be past each other.

    Which makes me wonder whether there’s a formulation of the question that would push the other side to engage more with questions of evidence.

    Hmm, maybe suggesting like: “If someone wants to base their beliefs on evidence and reason, should that person think that gods exist?”

  10. Bruce says

    Only do it if he lets you take the position: yes, the Great Spirit exists, because local tradition here says so. Let him take no.
    With any other position, the Regents might harass you.

  11. Bruce says

    To explain, in my view a simplistic “yes” will highlight how weak the yes “argument” is, better than refuting it would.
    Ideally, he’d then refuse the debate. Perfect. There are lots of debates on line on this question where they agreed to focus on some framework.
    He will insist on saying: Tradition says it, I believe it, that settles it. You know that he will only debate if he can say essentially that. So say it first, but differently.

  12. Bruce says

    Obviously, I don’t think this “debate” should happen.
    Alternatively, you could argue that the Norse pantheon must be true, because this country was founded on a Thor’s-day, and you are patriotic, so that settlers it. Plus, hump-day is Wotan’s-day. And maybe the debate would be on a Freya-day.
    Again, we all know that there won’t be any intellectual discussion happening here, so the only good goal is to cancel the debate without disappointing the students.

  13. stillacrazycanuck says

    I’d start by asking for a definition of what God is. And if the answer is some meaningless one such as ‘the prime mover’, push down for more precise terminology

    Also, if and when something approaching a non-jello definition emerges (which I doubt) ask whence that comes from

    Of course, one can then ask how his no doubt Xian definition would or would not apply to any of the myriad other Gods our species has created/worshipped

  14. StevoR says

    Note that this Perry Hendricks is also a Forced Birther / Female Slaver from his linked OP bio

    In ethics, much of my work has been on abortion. In a series of articles, I have developed and defended ‘the impairment argument’, which purports to show that abortion is immoral even if the fetus is not a person [5, 8, 15, 16, 22]. I’ve also argued that, given fetal personhood, abortion should be illegal [19].

    Wonder how well that will go down with women in the debate audience & if they get to have a say in the debate’s result?

    Oh and thinks Hendricks can apparently also predict God by knowing “his” reasons :

    But this is a mistake: predicting how God will act requires knowing about his reasons in general, and this requires knowing about both God’s axiological and non-axiological reasons. In light of this, I construct and defend a kind of sceptical theism—Deontological Sceptical Theism—that encompasses all of God’s reasons, and briefly illustrate how it renders irrelevant certain charges of excessive sceptical (sic – excessive sceptical ___what? -ed) and how it evaporates equiprobability objections. Furthermore, I put forth a simple argument in favor of Deontological Sceptical Theism, which shows that everyone (at least currently) ought to endorse it.

    Source : https://philpapers.org/rec/HENDST

    Seems a very big claim and I must admit I’m morbidly curious to know just what that whopping “proof” of this guys theism (& his reasons for thinking he can tell gods gender* and predict him and know all his reasons*) is. Could be quite intresting -or really frustratingly talking to a wall boringly dull.

    .* I’m gunna guess “Coz Buy-bull sez!” here but just maybe something else?

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    “Does God exist?”


    Only in human minds, but enough so as to have observable effects.

    Dunno how our esteemed host’s feet are doing these days, but he deserves the enjoyment of running circles around a blockhead in any case.

  16. StevoR says

    PS. On the “axiological” word in context here :

    Axiology (from Greek ἀξία, axia: “value, worth”; and -λογία, -logia: “study of”) is the philosophical study of value. It includes questions about the nature and classification of values and about what kinds of things have value. It is intimately connected with various other philosophical fields that crucially depend on the notion of value, like ethics, aesthetics or philosophy of religion.[1][2] It is also closely related to value theory and meta-ethics.

    Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiology

    @18. Erp : Thanks for that. Good source.

    @19. Pierce R. Butler : Is existing in people’s imaginations realiy existing in reality? I dunno. If so, a whole lot of things that didn’t actually happen and aren’t real actually did and are. God is mythology and fiction not actual tangible reality.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    StevoR @ # 20: Is existing in people’s imaginations [really] existing in reality?

    Philosophers have built successful careers on thrashing such questions within an inch of their lives; should I find myself in a debate like the one proposed, I’d keep that question ready in event of a who-can-confuse-the-audience-more competition.

    (I already gave my position away with that “has observable effects” criterion – can you construct a model of human existence without fiction, illusion, & misperception?)

  18. chrislawson says

    Erp@18– Even better than looking at the dictionary definition of skeptical theism is looking at Hendrick’s self-description from his own website, and there are more red flags than a May Day rally. Here are some choice bits:

    ‘I have also done work on divine hiddenness and the evolutionary argument against naturalism.’

    Ah, yes, the evolutionary argument against naturalism, an idiotic argument by Alvin Plantinga that Hendricks claims to save from criticism (if you go to the paper) by ‘showing that the EAAN can be salvaged and, indeed, strengthened, by framing it in terms not of naturalism (N), but of a proposition that is entailed by N that is also consistent with theism.’ So, yeah, if you take a stupid bad-faith argument against naturalism that is widely known to be terrible, all you have to do is redefine naturalism so you can still use the terrible argument to reject it!

    ‘In ethics, much of my work has been on abortion. In a series of articles, I have developed and defended “the impairment argument”, which purports to show that abortion is immoral even if the fetus is not a person.’

    I read one of his papers on abortion, btw, and I have rarely read such a transparent piece of motivated reasoning in an academic paper (and yes, I am aware of some real doozies out there).

    Why give this ass the courtesy of a debate? You know he’s going to spend his time on stage spouting stupid arguments in support of regressive moralism because that’s what he does on his website and in his papers.

  19. says

    My approach would be to bait this loon into defending Pascal’s Wager and then ripping Pascal’s Wager apart for its multilayered a priori assumptions, leaving him to chase himself in circles while he tries to defend Pascal’s combined binary and single-variable-only approach against the very existence of “nuance” and of multiple variables. The real point being that the faith of an individual does not, and cannot, matter in the grand scheme of things — unless that individual has the power and ability to not just influence, but undermine, “teh deity/deities at issue.” And the implications of that are not something with which any theist really wants to engage.

    But then, the last time I took a Myers-Briggs “inventory” test, the result came back E-V-I-L, so…

  20. says

    I, for one, would enjoy listening to you debate, PZ. Any chance of posting a recording afterwards? Should be easy enough to grab a feed from the PA system. As a lifelong Atheist and anti-religious proselytizing ne’er do well, I’m always looking for pointers.

  21. crimsonsage says

    Argue that Jupiter Capitolinus is the king of the heavens. Force him to argue that Jupiter doesn’t exist.

  22. crimsonsage says

    More seriously though I wouldn’t waste my time, especially considering how busy you seem to be at thus time of year.

  23. raven says

    Wikipedia Evolutionary Argument against Naturlism:

    The argument for this is that if both evolution and naturalism are true, then the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties is low.

    Anything Alvin Plantinga says is wrong.
    He isn’t a philosopher or even a theologian.
    He is just a xian defender.

    He is claiming here that only god can produce brains and minds that are cognitively reliable.
    It’s simply a claim without proof or data and may be dismissed without proof or data.
    He is wrong.

    From reading what the other commenters have said about this guy, I’d really think carefully about how much time you want to waste on another William Lane Craig clone.
    It looks like a Gish gallop of convoluted arguments, all of which turn out to be wrong.

    The forced birther/female slaver advocate tells you he is a hard core fundie xian.

  24. heartwood says

    If you are stuck doing it, I agree with Bruce. Also, ask to go first and make a land acknowledgement. The first debater defines the actual terms in the debate question. That is if it’s a formal debate. By forcing him to argue against the existence of a god other than his own, he will probably demonstrate the emptiness of his own arguments for his god thus undermining his position in the view of the audience. There is no better advocate than the devil’s own.

  25. raven says

    C. S. Lewis framing

    Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London.

    Plantinga got his EAAN from C.S. Lewis, who at least writes in plain, understandable English.
    C.S Lewis is always wrong too.

    He is claiming that our minds are the result of random chance.
    This is just wrong and it is not what evolutionary theory says!!!
    Another dead strawperson.

    Evolution = Random Mutation + Natural Selection.

    Our minds have been “designed” (as a result of natural forces) by 3.8 billion years of intense natural selection acting on an entire planet of organisms.

    And, they aren’t perfect but so what? Nothing is perfect in this world.
    What they are is demonstrably very capable.
    We’ve managed to become the dominant species on earth with robots on Mars and around Jupiter among many other accomplishments.

    CS Lewis, Plantinga, and this current guy are just playing word games.

  26. raven says

    C.S Lewis:

    But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an atheist, …

    Mindless word game.

    Lewis is using his supposedly “unreliable” thought to reject the arguments for atheism and so he has to believe in god.
    There is a contradiction here.
    If his mind is unreliable, there is no reason to trust that he has to reject atheism and believe in god either.

  27. andywuk says

    I’d only do it if I was bored and couldn’t think of anything better to do. (But that’s just me).

    Although I have to admit I have had some amusement in the past from:

    “Excuse me Sir, do you believe in God?”

    “Which one?”

    Inevitably that’s the one response they haven’t got a prepared answer for.

  28. euclide says

    You could make and distribute bingo cards of every apologist arguments, let the other speaker doing his presentation and let the public play and win spider pictures.

  29. says

    I’m wondering if there’s a useful angle in responding to the question with “why should we care?”
    Theists often try to safeguard their god from scrutiny by hiding behind “mysterious ways” and similar concepts. So, push on the question of why it matters. If the world behaves the same regardless, why care? And if it doesn’t, let’s see the evidence.

  30. lochaber says

    I just don’t see much value in debates. It just seems to be a charisma check for who can best “argue” in a semi- regulated manner. It has almost nothing to do with who has an actual moral stance, or who has arguments based on verifiable evidence.

    I think I’m a bit put off of “debates”, by creationists, forced-birthers, flat-earthers, homo/transphobes, anti-vaxxers, and ben shapiro using that technique to avoid verifiable evidence and facts, and just being able to sway gullible people by talking really fast and making shit up.

    But, things are different in a small community, whether it’s a college campus with tenured professors, a prison block, or a high school, so sometimes you may be compelled to show up and do something pointless, just to maintain an image/reputation or something.

    Fuck, I hate this world humans made…

  31. chrislawson says

    The worst case scenario here is that Hendricks is building a resume to move into right-wing media. If you debate him, the debate will be videoed, edited maliciously, and put up on YouTube with ‘ATHEIST PROFESSOR DESTROYED BY CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER’ headers. Hendricks doesn’t even have to do this himself. Plenty of supporters will do it without him even having to ask.

  32. Jim Brady says

    If was me, I would say that I don’t understand what the topic means. I would want the topic changed to something like “when I say God, everybody thinks of something different”.

  33. KG says

    The argument for this is that if both evolution and naturalism are true, then the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties is low. – raven@28 quoting Wikipedia

    I’d say that’s a reasonable argument, and of course we don’t have reliable cognitive faculties. That’s why we need formal logic, scientific method, technologies for gathering, storing and processing information, education for critical thinking, etc.

  34. says

    #16: This was a long meeting. We would take a break after an hour and a half of wrangling over one person before starting on another.

  35. cheerfulcharlie says

    The only reason in America such debates are held is because of Christianity and the New Testament. Now Jesus made claims the end of the world and the new Kingdom Of God was coming soon, soon, soon. This mandated selling all you have and giving to the poor. It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to gain the Kingdom of God. But todays mass of Christian God believers do not sell all they have and give to the poor. So, does this debate really matter? If Christians don’t believe in God enough to follow commands of Jesus, why should they expect atheists to care about a false 2,000 year old claim of the imminent coming of this Utopian Kingdom of God.

    I like posing questions like ” If you were God”. If you were God would you allow Satan to run wild on Earth? If God is perfectly good and omnipotent, why does Satan exist? Does this strike one as how a perfectly good, all powerful God acts? Or is it more like a poorly thought out oriental tale teller’s oriental tall tale? Make it all personal. Is God that is supposedly wise and good but does not seem to be smarter than a bad tempered sixth grader really believable? All people reading the Bible and the doings of God should ask themselves at each atrocity of the Bible, “Would I do this if I was God?”. Change the narrative. Kick start some minds.

    If you were God, would you mandate genocide of Canaanites, death of all the first born of Egyprt, the genocide of the Amelekites?

    There is no God. Just foolish oriental tall tales collected in foolish old books.

  36. says

    I’ve written back to the student, rather bluntly:

    Honestly, that is a terrible proposition. It’s overly broad, and also implies that we’re going to debate the existence of a specific, capitol-G god — which usually means my opponent is going to make vague assertions about deism or a cosmic principle and then imply that that supports their personal religious beliefs about a specific sect. Nah, I reject all gods and superstitions.

    The ball is in their court, I’ll let them figure out whether they want me enough to revise their plan.

  37. birgerjohansson says

    I would refer you to the very short SF story “The Last Question “.
    Do not mess around with hyper-powerful AIs.

  38. birgerjohansson says

    In a novel by Douglas Adams -it might have been “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”- a court makes the verdict “act of God” for an accident, ignoring the crucial question: which god?

  39. birgerjohansson says

    Lightbulb moment! Call South Park, see if Jesus -hosting the program “Jesus And Friends”- can come over and answer the question.

  40. birgerjohansson says

    Chigau @ 3
    Apologies, I did not notice you already had made the point.

    We should invite some hindus to the event and ask them which of the 2000-3000 gods we should believe.
    But a more urgent question would be ‘is a small god powerful enough to stop a really powerful vampire’?

  41. Emily says

    I mean, you could always use his own arguments to argue for a polytheistic pantheon. It’d probably throw him off and get a few laughs, and that’s about the best you can hope for in this sort of thing.

  42. Louis says

    If you want to do it, argue that “Yes, any god(s) exist(s). In almost exactly the same way currencies do. Now tell me why that’s wrong.”

    At the end, they’ll have demonstrated that the god they conceive of (Hairy Cosmic Thunderer!) doesn’t exist within the parameters they claim it does.

    Doing what Euclide suggests in #34 is a lot of fun, but a lot of work. However, it’s actually what I think SHOULD be done whenever engaging in any debate with denialists/pseudoscientists etc. Don’t engage directly, just play to the crowd by mocking with preprepared materials demonstrating the predictability of their standard drivel. The only way to win is not to play.

    With my suggestion, they’ll tie themselves up in knots because, dollars to dogshit, they haven’t considered the social construction of deities from any more depth than the “lunatic/liar/lord” pseudoprofundity that is kindergarten apologetics. It’s a bit of a dick move, but quicker and easier. And you’re a busy guy.

    But, all that said…we all know about the utility of public debate. It’s only worth doing with a mass, and at least it’s productive.


  43. stuffin says

    But a pacifist who views all confrontation like a war, I say debate and leave no survivors. Think Sherman’s March.

    Sherman’s army marched 285 miles (458 km) east from Atlanta to the coastal town of Savannah, which surrendered without a siege. Sherman’s 37-day campaign is remembered as one of the most successful examples of “total war,” and its psychological effects persisted in the postbellum South.

  44. says

    I’m with chrislawson: skip the debate and explain why you’re doing so.

    Also, ask the advocates of this debate what makes this Perry Hendricks guy worth anyone’s time or attention. I mean, he seems nicer and more honest than Dave Armstrong, but that’s not saying much…

    From Perry’s — oops, I mean Dr. Hendricks’s — web page:

    …I have developed and defended ‘the impairment argument’, which purports to show that abortion is immoral even if the fetus is not a person…

    So he’s a very philosophical forced-birther, who doesn’t give a shit about actual persons or personhood.

    In epistemology, I am primarily interested in the debate between internalists and externalists about knowledge and in modal epistemology. I have argued that the primary motivation for internalism is unfounded.

    Kinda sounds like he’s trolling for attention there. “I got my PhD, now I gotta go use it for something!”

    Screw this guy. Seriously, which students are lobbying you to debate him? The local Christian-philosopher-wannabee club?

  45. raven says

    I’d never heard the “impairment argument” against abortion and for good reason.
    It’s obviously stupid and wrong.

    What is the impairment principle of abortion?

    The argument is based on the premise that impairing a fetus with fetal alcohol syndrome is immoral, and on the principle that if impairing an organism is immoral, impairing it to a higher degree is also-the impairment principle.

    The impairment argument for the immorality of abortion revisited

    nih.gov https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › …

    Cthulhu, this is stupid.
    Stupid on many levels but once again, a trivial word game.

    .1. “impairing a fetus with fetal alcohol syndrome…”
    That isn’t what is happening.
    What is immoral is producing a living child with fetal alcohol syndrome.

    .2. The “impairment to a higher degree” is killing the embryo or fetus instead of interfering with its neurological development.

    .3. This is a false equivalence.
    They are saying that a dead fetus is equivalent to a live but impaired adult human.
    They aren’t the same. Not in our laws, not in reality.

    .4. This is just another slippery slope argument.
    In reality, most of our life is standing on slippery slopes making decisions based on 50 shades of gray. We do our best and draw lines based on common sense.

    .5. Completely absent from the Fake Impairment Argument is any consideration of the rights of the human girl or woman involved.

    The fetus is just an abstraction, existing all by itself instead of being parasitic on actual living humans and exerting huge current and future costs on their lives.
    It costs $260,000 to raise a middle class US child to age 18.

    Just For Your Information Hendricks, Forced birthing and female slavery are immoral.
    Don’t believe in abortion? Fine, don’t get one.

  46. Michael says

    Hi, I think you have a very well reasoned policy of not participating in debates, you should stick to it. Also, looking at this guy’s cv it seems that he you two have nothing in common in you academic backgrounds, you would really have to hash out the question and the parameters of the debate or you will just be talking from different universes. Not really worth the effort and not worth breaking your personal rule about debates.

  47. jeanmeslier says

    @52 the FAS “argument” is especially stupid if you keep in mind why infclicting FAS on a fetus is wrtong, from an actual interest-based ethical approach. If a human is aborted , it will never be in a sitation where it can suffer or be disadvantaged in its interest, as that point is AFTER birth . Infliciting FAs on a fetus is obviously only unethical as a human born with FAS will potentieally suffer in their later life and have shortcomings which they are then interested in , or rather plagued by , which obviously is not the case in a fetus

  48. jeanmeslier says

    … and I get the feeling that Dr. Not Jimmy but Perry Hendricks is playing a semantics game delibarately. His reasoning: “its FEEETAL alcohol snydrome, so you can’t deny the feetus needs to be sacred”, while its actually (obviously) just referred to the point in development where it has been acquired.

  49. Doc Bill says

    Full disclosure, I have a statue of Bastet in my study as I am but a lowly priest and Feeder of Tuna to his Holiness, the Most Exalted Qoobie Doobie, Lord of the Fleas.

    I have fond memories of Philosophy 101, MWF, 1pm, as our professor who was overly fond of tweed jackets would roll in three sheets in the wind. We quickly learned that when he announced “no class on Friday” we’d find him down at the local dive, the Latin Quarter, where he would gladly buy us pitchers of beer while waxing philosophical. My main takeaway was that philosophy was the study of becoming a lush.

  50. Robbo says

    @47 birgerjohansson

    your Asimov story reminded me of one I read years ago:

    “Evensong” by Lester del Rey

    I read it in a 1967 anthology “Dangerous Visions” put together by Harlan Ellison

  51. christoph says

    If you’re debating a right wing Christian, answer, “Yes, but God is NOTHING like what you had in mind.”

  52. steve oberski says

    You could first agree on all the gods that do not exist, that would establish some common ground.

    I’m pretty sure that Mr, Hendricks list of dead gods is just one god shorter than yours.

    “Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a time when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus. But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter today?

    All there were gods of the highest eminence. Many of them are mentioned with fear and trembling in the Old Testament. They ranked, five or six thousand years ago, with Yahweh Himself; the worst of them stood far higher than Thor. Yet they have all gone down the chute, and with them the following:

    You may think I spoof. That I invent the names. I do not. Ask the rector to lend you any good treatise on comparative religion: You will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest standing and dignity-gods of civilized peoples-worshiped and believed in by millions. All were omnipotent, omniscient and immortal.

    And all are dead.”

    ― H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy

  53. says

    PZ, I’ve read all the well intended suggestions and even the clever ones, But, here is the underlying concern:
    You have too much experience with these ‘debates’ to fall for this. You know that the ‘bible thumper’ will not use logical arguments and will shovel religious bullshit at you to try to bury your rational proposition. DON’T BE A SUCKER, ENGAGING IN THIS DISINGENUOUS OFFER IS COURTING DISASTER! It would be like trying to debate a rattlesnake with a big audience.

  54. says

    Or, you could quote St. George the Carlin to belittle the whole stupid situation:
    “I’ve begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of
    all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It’s
    there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite
    apparent all the time: heat, light, food, and a lovely day. There’s no
    mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s
    no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that
    the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to
    “god” are all answered at about the same 50% rate.
    from his album: Brain Droppings
    We put this quote in our Enchiridion

  55. billringo says

    True, overbroad. If you’re still interested I’ve always been intrigued about arguments regarding the necessity for a deity. See if they like, “Is god necessary?”

  56. cheerfulcharlie says

    Phioosopher you say?

    “In practice people who study philosophy too long become very odd birds, not to say thoroughly vicious; while even those who are the best of them are reduced by…[philosophy] to complete uselessness as members of society.”
    ― Plato, Republic: The Theatre of the Mind

  57. indianajones says

    I’d say ‘yes’ and point at a cat, or a tree, or a totem pole, or a myriad of other things that have been worshiped as gods. Then I would parrot his arguments back at him word for word, but replace where he says god for cat, and where he says Jesus for Mittens.

  58. beeseevee says

    I know how you feel about debates, but as a student at UMN Morris, I am excited by the opportunity to see you debate creationism live. I hope they can think of a more intelligent question.

  59. John Harshman says

    I’m remembering a short (very short) story by, I think, Fredric Brown. A bunch of scientists build a gigantic, extremely powerful supercomputer so they can ask their most profound question: “Is there a God?”, and the machine answers “There is now.” And then something happens, forget what, that demonstrates the machine’s power.

  60. birgerjohansson says

    When the duty engineer tries to shut off the God machine, a lightning bolt strikes from a blue sky, kills the engineer and melts down the “off” switch .

  61. John Morales says

    Some of the philosophy students at my university have asked me to participate in a debate, on my campus, with a fellow named Perry Hendricks.

    Here’s a suggestion: Christopher Hitchens made many a retort on this topic.

    Get Perry to put his propositions forward, get appropriate audio/video of Hitchens responding, then iterate to generate the debate.

    (No need for any new material, it’s all PRATTish)

  62. Silentbob says

    @ ^


    Does God Exist? William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Full Debate [HD] – YouTube

  63. says

    PZ @42:

    I’ve written back to the student, rather bluntly:

    Honestly, that is a terrible proposition. It’s overly broad, and also implies that we’re going to debate the existence of a specific, capitol-G god — which usually means my opponent is going to make vague assertions about deism or a cosmic principle and then imply that that supports their personal religious beliefs about a specific sect. Nah, I reject all gods and superstitions.

    The ball is in their court, I’ll let them figure out whether they want me enough to revise their plan.

    Sounds like an appropriate first move to me. I think it does the job of conveying the lack of good faith (heh) you perceive. If you get a response, I think it’s best you keep emphasizing the dishonesty inherent in such debates. As long as they keep handing you vague propositions, keep scraping it away in search of something solid. Not that they’ll ever give you something solid.

  64. raven says

    Does God exist?

    Besides being vague and overbroad, this question has been done to death.
    It’s trite. It’s a cliche. It’s completely unoriginal.

    The ancient Romans and Greeks were having these debates over 2,000 years ago.
    Up until recently, the xians were winning these debates by killing the other side by burning them to death on stacks of firewood.

    Nothing new here and you aren’t going to settle the question* in a few hours with some fundie who plays word games and thinks they prove anything.

    They need to narrow their focus and come up with something that could at least be interesting. I don’t know.

    “Is the fundie xian Sky Monster god more powerful than Cthulhu or Kali?”
    “Where is satan living now?” A few years ago, he was living in Los Angeles.
    “Does Hell exist and why would an omni-benign god create such a place?” Eternal punishment for finite crimes.

    **It is more or less a settled question any way. The gods don’t exist.
    Tell them to read Dawkins’s, The God Delusion instead.

  65. Marissa van Eck says

    I’d respond “Which God? Does a God exist? Maybe. Does Yahweh exist? Almost certainly not, and here is a long, long, LONG list of arguments and citations as to why not.”

  66. says

    I was 19 when I concluded “God is what happens. Divinity is what we do with it.” In 50 years I haven’t had cause to stray too far from that conclusion.

  67. captrench says

    Dont do it. Life is short and you dont have anything to prove. You’ve done this dance too often before to expect anything new to happen this time around.

Leave a Reply