In late 2013, Chris Hallquist and Randal Rauser participated in a debate on the rationality of belief in God. This debate was not a live debate, rather it was a series of audio exchanges that took place in late 2013. The exchanges were according to agreed upon time limitations on each section. For each of their several sections, the debaters were given at least a week to analyze, script and record their entries before submitting it to their opponent. Each submission, has been edited together in the agreed upon order for your listening interest. As one speaker ends, the next will follow without interruption.
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David Marjanović says
…Great, but why wasn’t it just done in writing? If so much planning went into it, the debaters probably wrote most or all of it down at some point anyway…?
Chris Hallquist says
David, Actually, we did script the debate. Justin, are the scripts going to be posted too?
It would be very nice indeed if the debates were scripted. I’m a much better reader than listener.
I’d like to think I listen to these debates with an open mind. However, once I start to hear Rauser talk, I can’t help but be glad I left faith behind. Yes, the debate format is partly to blame. But it’s tough to listen to Rauser’s drivel.
A lot of Randal’s time is spent saying “THERE ARE SMART PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD. HALLQUIST’S POSITION IS THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE WRONG.”
Listening to him talk is utterly painful. He had literally nothing to bring to the table as far as I can discern.
Yeah. When Rauser opened with The Courtier’s Reply and arguments from authority, I definitely just cringed. Outside from just fallacy, his assumption that only one definition of rationality makes the rest of the reasons in that chain work, whereas it is entirely conceivable that multiple definitions would be perfectly applicable. And his quibble with the term Evil God made me groan out loud since Hallquist had already made specific note about each property of Evil God and how it compares. It was crazy-making. He…he had a lot of issues.
Honestly, I didn’t listen to his last two segments, given his performance on the first two.
I always wonder, listening to these, if apologists feel the same way and/or if it’s just my bias, or what. I hope not, because I’d hate to think I have a blind spot to such BS.
Roger Covin says
I was looking forward to this debate, but there were a few issues that made it less than desirable:
1. Rauser started well by refining an important issue with discussions of rationality – they are context dependent, in that a person’s current knowledge of the world determines whether something is rational or irrational. This is why Hallquist’s emphasis on the necessity of evidence gathering was so inmportant for this debate.
Unfortunately, rather than just work within this seemingly rational construction of the basis of “rationality,” Rauser then acts as a speedbump throughout the remainder of the debate harping on minor issues regarding the whether they have the precise defintion. Is it that terrible to just assume than evidence gathering is needed as part of ones understanding of rationality – indeed, Rauser himself uses evidence throughout. So, even if this approach doesn’t spotlessly match what some philiosopher’s define it as, for the present purposes, why not just use that definition?
It is hard to appreciate a debate when one person is so fastidious over such details.
2. Rauser costantly and unfairly commented on how Hallquist did not comprehensively review, define, defende, justify, etc. every point he raised in the opening. This is an unreasonable demand – you are each given 20 minutes – is it reasonable to expect the other person to coomprehensively review every argument against the existence of God in that time?
3. Further to #2, I would have liked to hear Rauser make an actual opening statement and to spend more time arguing his point. From the beginning and throughout much of the debate, he focused his attention on showing why Hallquist was wrong, as opposed to demonstrating why he was right – while these concepts overlap, they are distinct.
4. As with most debates on religion that I have heard, there is too much time spent ignoring the opponent’s strong points. Indeed, the goal of these debates end up being more about the individual’s efforts to not lose, as opposed to tackling difficult material. While most debaters are guilty of this at times, I find it tends to be used more by apologists – William Craig being the most obvious. His goal is not to advance the audience’s understanding, it is repeat his strongest arguments regardless of what is happening throughout the debate. Similarly, Rauser does this more than Hallquist, and also does something equally annoying – constantly dropping little self-righteous and smug conclusions about how his opponent is confused and mistaken. It is disrespectful and seems to be an effort to win points via what psychologists call the peripheral route to processing.
I am glad the RD does these debates….but the approach taken by the debaters could be improved for the purposes of the audience. My suggestion is this – I would rather someone tackle the issues they find most difficult, even if they risk “losing” that particular debate.
Lucy Harris says
A transcript would help because there seemed to be a lot “I said this and you never addressed it” tit for tats. I frankly couldn’t remember all the times what was addressed by who. I also would like to nail down the irrational definitions without listening to it all over again.
I ditto DBP and miserlyoldman. So what if scientists believe. They don’t believe because of scientific reasons. And some may even admit they believe completely out of faith, for no good rational reason. Being a notable person in some profession doesn’t make you an expert on the god question. And therein lies the problem I have with this debate topic. I don’t particularly like the “is god belief rational” debates because indeed it can be rational to believe something false by an uninformed and uneducated person. A better question is “does the totality of available evidence indicate a god exists?” Then the best rational case could be applied to the question.
And I fear the reason this “rational” question is being posed is because of all those weak atheists types who will only go so far to say they have no reason to believe, but will balk at saying no god exists period. And it looks like Hallquist could handle a “does god exist” debate while taking on the burden of proof.
On the evil god issue, yes it was inane and childish for Rauser to need to specify that evil god could not be the same as tri-omni god. Duh,don’t worry nobody was confusing the precious tri-omni as evil. But I do think the evil god challenge is a big problem for tri-omni god. If evil god can’t be disproven evidentially, then that means we don’t have the evidence to positively assert there is a good god. Nobody can know a proposed god is good over mere assertion or faith.
Rauser never did establish any claimed consensus other than “everyone who knows agrees with me.” Wtf?
Rauser also gets points subtracted for his “nyah nyah, it’s so ironic that you’re irrational” cheap and empty shots.
How can Rauser misunderstand Law’s Evil God challenge so clumsily?
He misunderstood it because, (I suspect) like most religious people spouting apologetics, he doesn’t really understand what his opponent means or what they themselves mean. Atheist says a thing and there’s a response to that (given by Platinga or some other apologist) which is the official way to respond (free will is the response given to the problem of evil and it is always free will even after you point out god violates free will all the time. This is different in some way!). There is no back and forth or genuine thought put into an idea.
I’m sure he was working off a script other than the one he did for this debate. He saw the evil god thing and watched some youtube videos or something like that and tried to rattle off his own incoherent version. It looked to me like someone who plagiarized a wikipedia page and did a bad job of changing just enough to pass an essay off on their own. For someone who was apparently given their opponents arguments ahead of time, Randal certainly came across as being haphazard and disorganized. Not that Hallquist did a perfect job, but he wasn’t abysmal.
As other commenters have noted, Randal is really tough to listen to. He fixates on semantic distinctions and other basic irrelevancies while refusing to grapple with the real arguments being made. I’m just not sure if its based in honest (near-constant) misunderstanding or if he’s doing it willfully.
In summary: Randal Rauser is a shithead.
Michael Darby says
Rauser seemed from his first remarks to take the position that the other side had the burden of proof, and furthermore that this burden required proof for all people that currently or have ever believed in god.
Did the debate specify this? Why doesn’t he feel compelled to “prove” that the majority of believers are rational?
Perhaps each side should be required to submit their remarks for each round, or at least the initial round, at the same time.
To be of interest to listeners, I think both sides should interpret the debate question broadly as “given available knowledge about the natural world, and a broad familiarity for the arguments for and against god, can it be considered rational to believe in god?” This would seem to guard against the pedantic arguments raised by Rauser, such as the implication that you need to argue against the logic which brings a five year old boy to believe.
I find the argument from the problem of evil particularly strong evidence against theism. As such, it was highly annoying to hear Rauser continually evade the specific case posed. Instead, he rapidly referred to lines of argument presumably offered by modern scholars, at least some of which sound bogus and irrelevant (such as chaos theory of natural disasters.) Having evaded a truly troubling example, he instead refers to a mother’s acceptance of her son’s death (presumably not by rape and beating) and acceptance of her own inability to comprehend that death given a supposedly all-loving god. What transparent bar-lowering.
The argument that evil actually counts as evidence for god was amazing. My fundamentalist step brother made the same argument in a similar discussion. So the suggestion is that learning about the rape of the Michigan girl strengthened belief in an all-loving god?
I appreciate that it is difficult to get apologists to argue fairly without evasion. But I wonder if future debates could frame the topic and/or debate rules differently to encourage more useful discussion, e.g. to address the weaker points of one’s position as was suggested above.
Randal’s opening statement left me speechless: I kept waiting for him to make an argument, but his statement amounted to him redefining the debate topic as “Is belief in God irrational in all conceivable times, places and for all people past, present and future?” and essentially pre-emptively declaring himself the winner. If he could redefine the debate topic to put 100% of the burden of proof on Chris, and redefine rationality away from any mention of evidence or probability, he could just “punt to possiblity,” as Loftus puts it, and declare himself the winner by default. Which is just what Randal did.
I was also very disappointed that Randal instantly went nuclear with his own brand of “evidentialism is circular, therefore God is reasonable,” as an excuse for not actually dealing with the evidence – as if the only version of evidentialism on offer were the one stuffed with straw and stuck on a post that Christians like patting themselves on the back for after giving a good thrashing. Part of me is pleased that Christian apologists seem to be getting rather crowded along this line of defence, because it is the very last line of defence. It’s also the argument most nakedly meant to appease the doubting Christian rather than convince the skeptic. It exposes apologetics as a fence not meant to keep the skeptical wolves out, but the Christian sheep in.
I was disappointed with both debaters that so much of the exchange amounted to claims and counter-claims for and against consensus among philosophers, though I give Chris credit for at least trying to head that off during his opening statement. I did appreciate Chris’ simple presentation of the logical problem of evil; I think it gets too little love these days. As regards the back-and-forth over who was misquoting Mackie, and Randal’s appeal for the audience to read for themselves, I have, and did again, and I think Chris’ point about Randal either being lazy or dishonest with his citations of atheist thinkers was essentially correct, and would have been the most damaging moment for Randal’s case, if not for:
Randal simply listing the names of some smart theists. Apparently as an argument. I am going to go ahead here and invoke Poe’s Law.
This was painful to listen to, and I will admit to stopping at about an hour. Maybe the problem is with the question itself: Is belief in god irrational? If someone will kill you for not believing in god, then believing in god is sort of rational. The problem is with the definition of rational, and a whole debate about this definition is obnoxious.
For me, a rational god belief would be formed if I looked at the universe and concluded that a supernatural deity is necessary to explain my observations. Prayer would be particularly easy to test. However, conclusively proving that prayers are answered (i.e. that wishes come true), would still not provide evidence that it’s god granting the prayer.
And by god, I could use the same omni- everything definition, but I feel like I’m creating a straw man argument that is easy to refute. The problem of evil refutes the omni- everything god. But there is more than just evil human behavior, for which “free will” is the proposed solution. Why would this perfect god create an environment in which we are completely surrounded by pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi? Why would pathogenesis even be necessary? Why would absolutely everyone eventually develop some sort of fatal problem? Why would this being create a hell?
If sex is so problematic, then why is sexual reproduction even a thing? The bible clearly demonstrates that this god is capable of just creating people without sexual reproduction. Why not create a whole population that never reproduces, and never dies? Why do we even have resource constraints?
Obviously at least one of the omni- assumptions is wrong. A fun debate would be to answer: which ones? My christian apologetics friends do not understand me when I explain that theism (in this case christianity, but I won’t limit myself here) posits a model of the universe that needs to be tested before I will accept the possibility that this god may exist.
I know I’m preaching to the choir (see what I did there?), but this debate is just so frustrating.
Re: Michael Darby
You posted your reply while I was writing mine, and it looks like we’re on the same wavelength here. I also agree with your point about Randal saying that evil isn’t just apparently not evidence against God, but actually evidence for God. It’s an extraordinarily facile defence, as all he’s doing is rendering yet another claim about God unfalsifiable. It’s the same with divine hiddenness, the “greater good” defence and its cousin skeptical theism, explanations of the failure of intercessory prayer, etc. By using unfalsifiable arguments to save God from logical disproof, they render belief in that God permanently irrational, even if said God actually existed.
If Randal is a Poe, then he is a good one and has a serious need of a real god damn hobby. I seem to remember him making youtube videos as far back as 2007 and 2008 with essentially the same schtick. Maybe not that far back, maybe even father back. But he didn’t just pop up for this debate.
My opinion is that he is real and isn’t misunderstanding things on purpose, rather his tactic of nitpicking things excessively and pointless is a winning tactic to him. He thinks that is what it means to dismantle an opponent’s argument.
Indeed – I’m certain he is the genuine article, too.. Just making an observation that if anyone else had made that same argument, it would be Poe-worthy.
>>’his statement amounted to him redefining the debate topic as “Is belief in God irrational in all conceivable times, places and for all people past, present and future?”’
quoth ‘Michael Darby’,
>>’Rauser seemed from his first remarks to take the position that the other side had the burden of proof, and furthermore that this burden required proof for all people that currently or have ever believed in god.’
Exactly. Randal must understand that no one is actually arguing this point. It’s a straw man he propped up from the word go.
A good chunk of Randal’s b.s. (and perhaps future b.s.) could and should have been preempted by simply rephrasing the debate question. I’m sure no one reasonably expected that level of nitpicking ninny-ism
I just managed to sit through the last few segments and had a legit LOL when Randal uttered the actual words (slightly paraphrased here): “There are dozens upon *dozens* of arguments in favor of god’s existence! Many of them supported by actual Philosophers!! In my own book I detail at least *eight* of them!”
Mike M. says
To The RD Hosts:
I was just listening to one of the more recent episodes where you guys mentioned you are having trouble with the podcast feed. If you have not found anyone who can help yet, feel free to send me an email.
With a side step like that, Randal should consider a career in politics.
I second the idea of simultaneous submission of opening statements in future debates. In previous RD Extras debates, I’ve noticed the same tendency to address the first opening remarks rather than argue a position (although nowhere near on this level). I’m not sure how the interest of fairness in terms of response time would be addressed. Maybe one side agrees to a handicap or can have a slightly longer and/or delayed closing statement to compensate.
Personally, I think even given Rauser’s reframing of the debate topic to encompass all people in all times everywhere, he’s still wrong because bad logic isn’t good rationality, and if something is demonstrably bad logic, then it’s not rational. While it may be reasonable to espouse belief to keep from injury, it would still not be rational to actually believe. While it may be understandable to believe things with very little information on hand, it’s still not rational. As a three year old, I didn’t think meteorites were aliens, even though I didn’t know what meteorites were. It might be understandable if I had but in no way rational. Obviously, this was my crowning preadolescent achievement.
I’m not sure how it was presented to the debaters, but given the intro, I had assumed it would be more like the Orme/Scheiber debate (if I’m thinking of the right one), where each side is arguing for their position, positive or negative, and the opponents would have to defend and counter argue. Rauser spent so much time looking for loopholes in a format that couldn’t be expected to lack them that I stopped caring whether he would present arguments Hallquist would have to refute.
Andrew J.P. says
I really enjoyed this debate. From the comments I read, one of the general themes I see is people reflecting on the debate focus “is belief in god irrational”. I think perhaps listeners to the debate might have expectations on the focus of the debate that may go beyond what the debate question asks. It makes me wonder whether debate questions are framed in a particular way so the debaters will discuss specifically what the questions ask, or whether they are just general starting points for discussion. Personally, when I listen to a proper debate I think of it like a game, and try and take seriously the question being discussed. I think the most compelling debater will be the one who best answers and defends their position with regard to the debate question. But I sometimes findin debates, and in this debate as well, that one debater will focus more on the question of the debate, and the other will instead use it as a spring board for more general discussion. So perhaps there might be different expectations when going into a debate, some hoping for something more than what is outlined. I’m sad that some seemed to not enjoy the debate perhaps because of the direction the debate seemed to take, so perhaps more can be done next time to clarify what perameters and direction the debate should go?
I also think that some have posted uncharitable things toward Randall Rouser that are unfair. I appreciated both Randall’s and Chris’ arguments , even though it seemed they had different ideas about what they should be debating about.
Re: Andrew J.P,
>>>I also think that some have posted uncharitable things toward Randall Rouser
Hmm. Perhaps this is a direct result of Randal being so uncharitable toward Chris? (continually referring to him as “ignorant”, not giving an inch on the endless semantic nitpickery, all the smug, disrespectful comments, etc…)
quoth Andrew JP,
>> I appreciated both Randall’s and Chris’ arguments even though it seemed they had different ideas about what they should be debating about.
That’s one interpretation; but based on the witness testimony of other commenters who saw his previous debates & Youtube clips, we know that Randal’s been engaging in this excessive nitpickery for years, apparently as an intentional debate tactic.
I suppose one could believe that Randal honestly thought the topic of this debate was, literally, “Was it ever rational for any human who has ever lived to believe in god under any conceivable circumstance?”, but one must wonder why he’d hold on to that misunderstanding since no person has ever argued for that position ever, and Chris made nothing resembling such an argument throughout the debate. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man)
A better question would have helped. Personally, I was expecting Rauser to explain what the rational reasons for belief in god actually are. He said during the debate that there were reasons, and that there were eight of them in his book. I did hear him mention one that relied on his premises being “plausible”. I would have liked to hear Hallquist explain either why those reasons are not rational, or that they do not conclusively demonstrate whether there is a god or not.
I suspect Rauser did not want to do that because the reasons are not particularly compelling to anyone who is knowledgeable about this debate. The rationalizations for god sound like rational reasons only to people who are religious and really really want to believe.
Rauser instead tried to argue that the reasons why god is irrational are wrong. This assumes the listeners make the mistake of assuming that if his opponent’s reasons are wrong, then he is therefore correct by default. This is sort of what happens when creationists try to “disprove” evolution. Even if all the claims of his opponent are wrong, does not mean that he is correct.
Michael Darby says
It might have helped make the debate more civil if the alternative to a rational basis for belief was outlined.
The believers I know came to god through culture, or their family belief system, or through a mental experience, or through an act of will or faith, or through an attachment to the community around religion.
If the debate had been framed with faith as an alternative, Chris could answer the rhetorical question: “Are you saying all these smart people believed because of their faith?” with a “yes”. As it was, the implied alternative to being rational seemed to be stupidity, which is hardly palatable. But many believers seem to take great pride in their faith, seeing it as a virtue. I know I was chided as a child for asking sincere (even obvious) questions about the Bible.
Daniel Schechter says
As a firm atheist, I believe strongly that belief in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God is not only irrational, it is stupid. Yet (and perhaps I stand alone among commenters here) I feel that Chris pulled off the impressive task of losing the debate to an irrational theist. Chris made (IMO) a number of important errors.
1. Chris fell into the theist’s trap of defining God as “perfectly good.” Neither party in the debate defined what is meant by “good” and the word “perfect” has no possible rational definition in this context. What is “perfect” supposed to mean? Of course, what we all mean by “good” is whatever benefits me, and what we all mean by “evil” is whatever hurts me or someone I feel sympathetic towards. “Good” and “evil” are supremely subjective terms that can have meaning only if you assume a divine lawgiver. It would be more useful to use the objective terms “kind” and “cruel.” The atheist needs to be adamant that it is not a divine lawgiver that constrains people’s behavior, but rather social conditioning. We are a social animal and have evolved to prefer social behavior. The atheist should try to avoid using the theistic terms “good” and “evil.”
2. Randal was entirely correct to criticize Chris for first defining “God” as “good” and then employing the term “evil God” in his argument.
3. I would define “God” (capitalized) as meaning a presumed non-material being, creator of the physical world. It would not be entirely irrational to believe in a cruel God, an indifferent God, a practical-joker God, or a bumbling God. That last being a God powerful enough to create a universe, but not competent enough to make that universe come out as desired. (Not all watchmakers make watches that keep good time.) So the debate should really specify what sort of God is the object of the belief whose rationality we are discussing.
4. Chris did well to raise the issue of the little girl who died. A more general form would be: “Where is God when children are starving?” The theist always responds with some form of “We cannot understand God’s reasons.” The atheist, faced with this argument needs to call BULLSHIT!!! If God is all-powerful, then God can accomplish desired goals through kindness as easily as through cruelty. If an all-powerful God allows suffering, then it can only be because God has CHOSEN to employ or allow suffering as a method of achieving desired goals.
A cruel god would use suffering. A kind and loving God would not. Therefore, either there is no God, or is it not the kind and loving God that Christians claim to believe in. (As an additional aside, an “intelligent” designer would NEVER have run the urethra through the center of the prostate unless that designer WANTED to cause horrible suffering in the large number of men whose prostates become enlarged, requiring agonizing surgery or death by kidney failure or a burst bladder as the urethra becomes slowly choked off. It is EASY to disprove that a presumed creator wishes us well, unless that creator is a bumbling incompetent.)
Chris failed to hammer home the point that an all-powerful God allows suffering only if that God wishes the creatures of the Earth, both humans and animals, to suffer.
I could probably go on, but I won’t. By failing to raise critical points, and by accepting irrational theistic definitions and terminology, Chris clearly lost the debate. Randal was clearly (IMO) in the wrong, but he presented his position far more decisively than Chris. What a disappointment! Of course, it’s a truism that a debate is won, not by the side that has the right, but by the side that is the more skilled debater. Chris is not a good debater. Randal is clearly a skilled debater, as evidenced by his ability to prevail even on the wrong side of the question.
While I generally enjoy the Reasonable Doubts podcast, I feel you too often assume you are arguing against the Christian God, whose very description is self-contradictory, and by buying into the Christian definition of God, you all too often wind up making silly arguments.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Moreover, reasons for belief specifically in the spartan god defined in the debate.
Not the varous baggage-laden concept(s) that ‘millions of people’ associate with the label “god”.
What good reasons would lead anyone posit the existence of such a thing?
Andrew J.P. says
“Perhaps this is a direct result of Randall being so uncharitable towards Chris”
Perhaps, though even if Randall was uncharitable towards chris, I don’t know if its correct/moral/justified (pick a standard) to be uncharitable towards Randall for his uncharitableness (I think I just made up a new word). Think about the endless line of “shitheads” we’d be encouraging if that we’re the case. Randall calls Chris ignorant, Fletch calls Randall a shithead, I call Fletch a shithead for calling Randall a shithead, Cddp calls me a shithead for calling Fletch a shithead, and on and on it goes until the whole planet is full of shitheads. I for one would like to brake that cycle. I think we can be kinder with the way we approach people’s arguments and judge those arguments on their own merits without ascribing qualities to that person that don’t follow from his arguments. Does that make sense?
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@Andrew J.P. #29:
Your slippery slope are noted.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Paul Twohey says
I listened to the whole thing, even though it because painful way before the end. The first thing I noticed is what has been mentioned may several here, that Rauser never bothered with an opening statement. He then, in what was supposed to be his first rebuttal, essentially said “I win because Halquist isn’t doing it right.”
Not all of Rauser’s points were bad, as someone pointed out above, but he completely failed to understand, or else deliberately misconstrued, Hallquist’s most damning argument, that if a normal person would say that a single evil creator god is illogical because there is good in the world, then it is consistent to reverse the argument and say that a single good creator god is illogical because there is evil in the world.
What I would like to have heard from Rauser would have been the actual, supposedly irrefutable apologetic response to the problem of evil, but Rauser did not offer it. The answer is “free will,” and the refutation for that is that, then, in creating free will, their god created the potential for evil, and by extension, evil itself, because free will can only mean the choice whether to do good (defined as everything in accordance with the will of the god) or evil (defined as ones own will, which is in conflict with the will,of the god). Evil would not have existed until free will was created.
Re: MD #26
This. The whole debate, especially Rauser, was basically about determining which reasons qualify in the “rational” category. Rauser could have won by getting Hallquist to agree to a definition of rational that includes the real reasons why people believe in any god. Hallquist rightly began with a definition of rational that excludes all of the actual reasons: e.g., culture, personal experience, faith, credulity.
Re: DS #27
This is kind of a fun debate sometimes. My personal favorite is the scientist god. Scientist god does not know the future. She may be able to measure the precise state of the universe at a given instant, but she needs to experiment to fine-tune everything to her satisfaction. Evidence for a multiverse would support this god, because she can presumably create many universes to experiment with.
Another favorite is bored child-god. His intentions are irrelevant, because he is motivated by curiosity and boredom. Life is kind of boring, let’s create a garden to enjoy. Nothing is really happening in the garden, let’s create some people to play with. These people are boring and stupid, let’s create knowledge of good and evil so that they do interesting stuff. They’re not eating it, so maybe I need to create a snake to tempt them. Uh oh, it all went wrong, maybe I should wipe everything out with a flood. That didn’t help, maybe they need a savior. That didn’t work either. I’m bored with them now, they’re on their own. This god is consistent with the god in the bible and our observations of reality.
Re: AJP #29
This sounds close to the truth. It is especially shithead behavior to pretend to know things they don’t, but pass off those things as fact to gullible people. Sometimes they know that there are refutations to their arguments, but they don’t care how many times the flaws are pointed out, they still spread the same lies and false information over and over. They usually do this for money, and if admitting they are wrong causes the money flow to dry up, then to hell with truth.
Bored child-god is a little mean and likes to create arbitrary rules with ridiculous punishments and rewards. He also likes to watch us have sex.
But straight sex; none of this gay stuff. Lesbians are cool.
Danny W says
This was a terrible debate. Chris raised good points, whilst overall falling into far too many traps and not actually scoring any points from his opponents.
However, Randell’s performance was truly shocking and I can’t imagine anyone who listened to the whole thing, regardless of the position they take, actually enjoying the experience. Randell did not come to debate the existence of God or the rationality of his position. He came to score some points in semantics and to bog down what might have been an entertaining and informative debate about a position he holds in technicalities that nobody finds interesting.
I also found his tactics dishonest. “I haven’t argued for the existence of God but I mentioned that in my vast back catalogue of literature I have made more than 10 arguments for the existence of God and that Chris had to address all of them now and he hasn’t addressed any so I win.”
Are his supporters really this naive? Is this what they call entertaining or informative? If winning looks like this, who cares?
I love reasonable doubts and was looking forward to this. The only way this could have been salvaged would have been to play the arguments from both sides and then dissect as a team one by one. Just playing it resulted in disappointment.
Andrew J.P says
Re: Danny w #36
I did enjoy it Danny. I thought both debaters were articulate, and did their best to argue their position.
It appears that you were upset that Randall “did not come to debate the existence of God”, but I don’t know why that should make you not enjoy the debate, since the debate resolution was not asking to debate this, but to debate the issue is belief in god is Irrational? I would perhaps be disappointed if the resolution asked “does God exist?” And instead of answering that question, the debaters instead talked about whether it was rational to believe in a god made of cheese (though I probably would still be entertained by that discussion :).
RE: Andrew JP#37
Cheese god sounds awesome! If we postulate a cheese god, then we need to debate what type of cheese god is made from. Fortunately, it revealed to me that it is made of infinitely sharp cheddar, and to suggest otherwise is heresy. Because I am a witness to cheese god’s existence, it is totally rational to believe in it.
The existence of god is sort of conflated with the rationality of belief in god. Is it rational to believe something that doesn’t exist? Is it rational to believe something that lacks evidence of existence? Is it rational to believe something from a 2000 year old book, even if the book claims it’s true, and that a large population of people believe it’s true? Are arguments from antiquity, authority, and popularity sufficient for the belief to be rational?
The debate question depends crucially on the definitions of irrational and god. The god whose definition they agreed on obviously does not exist, because of the problems of evil and suffering, amongst others. They did not agree on the definition of rational. Randal’s arguments seemed to imply that there are rational reasons to believe in this nonexistent god; he knows more than 10 of them! Is this really the debate that you wanted?
Kamizushi Akinari says
Christ providing arguments to answer the question, Randal reframing it to his advantage.
BTW I’m not sure if anyone here is checking Randal’s own entry for the debate on his site, but here is Randal directly addressing this very comment thread:
lol…EVERYONE who posted a comment is IGNORANT!!
Also, there seems to be a disproportionate level of attention being paid to the one person who posted one extremely brief comment using the word “shithead”….. there are plenty of other comments here by unrelated individuals making up the remaining 99% of text…
Andrew J.P. says
Re: Jon P. #38
“Is this really the debate that you wanted?”
This was not the debate we deserved, but the debate we needed…
Just kidding, I actually had not heard about this debate before listening so I had no expectations going into the debate.
“The existence of god is sort of conflated with the rationality of belief in god. Is it rational to believe something that doesn’t exist?… Are arguments from antiquity, authority, and popularity sufficient for the belief to be rational?”
I thought these were the questions that needed to be talked about in order to answer the resolution. Or were you being rhetorical?
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
He whined and postured some more:
And added this counter-argument:
The “objective moral values” are embedded in the proposed “god” definition. The PoE is an argument for the inconsistency of accepting both the existence of that hypothetical entity (with its
external fiat‘objective’ morality) and descriptions of the world we observe.
The argument doesn’t rely on perceiving evil itself, only recognizing events which would be deemed as such within the hypothetical. Suggesting a “perfectly good” god while omitting a definition of “perfectly good” punts the details to implicit shared culture/background for brevity.
Going further to categorically reject all social (dis)inclinations, cultural assumptions, and human-made models of moral standards is *not* a defense. That’d require the theist to explicitly fill a new void in the “god” definition to make it intelligible.
It’s a pyrrhic victory to say “Neener neener! You can’t say I’m wrong because you never knew what ‘good’ meant!”
What good is a “god” defined as a [redacted] noun? *
* That was rhetorical.
I was being rhetorical, but only in the sense that the answers to those questions depend entirely on how we define god, how we define rational, and how we categorize reasons by there rationality.
Nice find cddb. I like how 15 people is considered a mob. Randal’s rhetoric seems a bit hyperbolic. Is he surprised people disagree with him, especially people commenting on an atheist blog? Is he surprised that everyone has not read everything that he has read?
I personally had difficulty understanding his pedantic logic chopping, because it was a bit abstruse. I am not familiar with all of the philosophy jargon, and I therefore find it difficult to determine exactly what Randal is talking about. If he wants me to agree with him, than he needs to be able to express his ideas in a way that I may understand. He doesn’t know his audience.
While it may be rational for a Christian to believe in the Christian god, these reasons are not rational. It is not clear to me that there are any rational reasons. Furthermore, even if there are good rational reasons, it is not clear that they are the actual reasons why people believe in god.
Cosmological, teleological, and miracle arguments are all arguments from ignorance or personal incredulity. I don’t know how the universe came to exist, therefore christianity; I don’t know how biology works, therefore christianity; I don’t have an explanation for a phenomenon, therefore christian god performed miracle.
Regarding arguments from personal experience, I had a debate about this at my bible study group (I’m a masochist). The group is primarily medical students so the topic was regarding miracle healings that people have experienced or witnessed. My argument was that people from different cultures would have different interpretations of unexplained healing. A biologist would think of spontaneous repair mechanisms in the body, a christian would think jesus, people from other religions would think this is evidence of their beliefs. Attribution of personal experience to specific causes is not evidence, because anyone can attribute any unexplained phenomenon to any personal belief.
The problem of evil is irrelevant, because the question was not: Is belief that there is no god rational? The parsimonious solution to this problem is that there is no god (at least with the agreed upon characteristics).
Yet another “There are really smart people who believe in god!” argument.
There are many smart peoples, whole civilizations making the best arguments for the existence of their gods. But that doesn’t make their arguments rational.
No matter what the time period, the evidence for astrology (an example given in the comments on his blog) was always bad and never made much sense to come to the conclusion that it worked. It looks kinda like he doesn’t know the difference between a logically valid argument and a logically sound argument. Not knowing better doesn’t make one’s conclusions about the world rational. Understandable maybe, but not really rational.
What makes this deliciously ironic is that “Reasonable Doubts” is always harping on the alleged superior rationality of atheists, and yet their own audience (or at least all those commenting) act like an ignorant mob.
ALL those commenting? A bit of a sweeping statement there on Randal’s part. One person using a word you don’t like doesn’t make everyone else an “ignorant mob.” Yikes.
As to whether the debate topic was actually supposed to be what Randal believed it to be, (i.e. putting an impossible burden of proof on Chris), I haven’t been able to figure out. Randal says on his blog that when he saw the debate topic, he thought it was very strange that Chris was taking such an extreme position, (i.e. belief in God is always irrational for all people and in all times). I would have thought so too, but I probably would have assumed, “this is too good to be true,” and would have sought clarification. He also claimed that the RD guys told him to use his opening statement as a first rebuttal, instead of making his own arguments; I’ll take him at his word on that until shown otherwise.
However, is it just me, or do debate topics that are formed as open-ended questions usually mean that both sides are expected to make their own case?
A couple of other points about the debate:
1) Randal spent a fair amount of time quibbling over the definition of “Evil God,” stating that if God were defined in part as “perfectly good,” then the term “Evil God” meant “perfectly evil perfectly good being.” I thought Chris made his definitions perfectly clear when he introduced that argument, so I’m at a loss to where Randal’s objection is coming from. Also, I think Randal missed what Chris was doing with that argument: if both a good an evil god are consistent with the theists’ standards of evidence and argumentation, then the probability of either one cannot rise above 50%. The other point of that argument, usually lost on theists, is that it exposes yet another aspect of their god-belief as being unfalsifiable. I was confused by Randal’s reply to that: he kind-of sort-of conceded the point, and then asked, “so what?” I would argue that for a theist, “doing one’s epistemic duty” would then be to admit agnosticism on god’s moral nature. (I know Randal defends the moral argument for god’s existence and would probably try to avoid the conclusion that way, but I find that argument circular and badly at odds with observed reality).
2) I really wished Chris would have defended his definition of rationality better, clarified it, or come up with a better one. Randal’s objection to it was simplistic and strawman-ish.
3) Randal’s claim to consensus among philosphers that Plantinga defeated the logical problem of evil was blissfully data-free. What can be asserted without evidence…
4) I think defining testimony as properly basic is bizarre, no matter who thinks it isn’t. The examples Randal uses to make his case for it are all far too simplistic establish the principle. My biggest objection to the properly basicality of testimony is that it treats all testimony the same and completely ignores the prior probability of the type of testimony in question. Randal’s examples of people generally giving reliable testimony in mundane questions about the weather, driving directions, etc., do nothing to alter the fact that people’s testimony regarding the supernatural tends to be very unreliable. But theists, (and especially Christians,) really need testimony to be innocent until proven guilty in all cases in order for their faith to be rationally believable. I see no reason to grant that and plenty of solid reasons to reject it.
Also, thinking about my own objections to skeptical theism, the greater good defence, and other such moves, I’m curious about people’s thoughts, theist and atheist, on the following question:
Putting aside “pragmatic” reasons for belief, are there any cases where it is rational to believe in something that is unfalsifiable?
What about free will? The only test to conclusively demonstrate whether or not we have free will is to rewind time and see if we would always make the same decisions given exactly the same circumstances.
Could I have written this question in any other way?
I think I have another belief that is rational but unfalsifiable. I believe that the past existed. I believe that the universe did not spontaneously arise in it’s current state complete with my memories of the past, and the records of our conversation on this blog. Does that count?
I don’t agree with the free will one, as I find libertarian free will thoroughly falsifiable and thoroughly falsified, (if not outright contradictory). As for having memories of a real past, I would say it makes a falsifiable prediction that other people’s memories of it will be broadly similar to mine. I would think to doubt that, you would need to either doubt “other minds,” or be a hard solopsist or something.
Anyways, I don’t want to get this thread too far off track, but I was thinking about how it seems to me that skeptical theism tries to save God’s goodness (and thereby existence, so defined) by evacuating the details of his nature of any predictive power. I think that also makes God, so defined, irrational to believe in. But I’m looking for ways that that may or may not be similar to any other rational yet unfalsifiable beliefs we may have, if any. Either way, I don’t know if it gets you anywhere.
The problem that I have with skeptical theism, at least as it attempts to save god’s goodness, is that it basically denies the existence of evil. It’s not really evil, because everything happens for a good reason, even if we are not aware of it. The divine master plan is perfection, to borrow from Tori Amos. All that murder, and rape, and cancer, and pathogenic bacteria, and sun that will eventually exhaust it’s fuel rendering the planet inhospitable, yeah all that means god loves us. It seems like an extreme form of the just world hypothesis.
If skeptical theism is true, then how can we be certain about any characteristics that god has. Why do we need to insist the god is super good? Why do we need to insist that he knows everything, and can do everything, and that he created everything? Because a book says so? How can we be certain the book is not lying? Why would we believe that god needs to be honest? Does complete honesty mean that god has limitations? Does that violate omnipotence assumptions?
If facts violate at least one of the god assumptions (no way to determine which ones), then is the solution to conclude that the facts are wrong, or that one or more of the assumptions are wrong?
I am uncomfortable even arguing against an omni-everything god, because it seems like an easily refutable straw-man. That we even apparently need this conversation is absurd to me.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Article: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – The Epistemology of Religion
/Nothing new. But, phrasing. XD
Podcast: Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot – Why Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology Fails (1:42:30)
(With a looong transcript , some of which will sound familiar after hearing this debate)
I know what you mean – the problems of an all-powerful and all-good god really spiral out of control in every direction when you stop to think about it. For one thing, such a god could not have free will, even if such a thing were possible. Not loving us would not be an option for him, so why is it so valuable for us to love him back that way, even at the cost of bringing evil into the world, and condemning most of us to some kind of hell or annihilation? Even more obviously than that, we don’t apply those kinds of values to love in any other sense, either: is your spouse’s love for you devalued somehow by the mere fact that your existence is known to him/her as an absolute certainty?
And yes, I agree that the consequences of skeptical theism radiate out into and undercut many, many other parts of traditional god-belief. The way I see it, someone who has a god-belief and who invokes the ST defence against the problem of evil is driven essentially to an agnostic position on everything from god’s moral nature, to its motives, its honesty, and on and on.
However, I’ve also become less interested in these kinds of arguments. We’re all so steeped in traditional supernatural beliefs that we forget how truly bizarre some of the other underlying assumptions of standard theism are. As someone who was raised as a Christian and later changed his mind, I now see my reasoning process as having proceeded in reverse from what is most sensible: it was questions about specific doctrines that first cause me to doubt, and then taking a look at the nastiness in the Bible, and then Biblical Criticism, archaeology and history, and then the philosophical arguments for and against god.
And now I see it the way I probably should have right from the start: to believe in some kind of god, I’m going to have to hear the case made from absolutely bare first principles, with evidence shown at every step. For starters, show me a mind without a brain. Show me where the laws of physics are being violated inside my head to allow for uncaused thoughts and actions to appear “from beyond.” Then I might actually have some basis for following the argument about how such a thing could exists outside of space and time. And then explain what the heck “outside of space and time” could possibly mean. After that, maybe we could talk about that being’s nature is, how we know that, and how well the natural world comports with that. But not before.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Article: Wikipedia – Hellenistic Philosophy and Christianity
I was raised nominally catholic in a functionally atheistic social environment. I did the after school catechism classes, but it never stuck. I did go to church, but I mostly slept through it. I went with my mother, but she is my only family member who I’ve seen go to church. I have never internalized spiritual concepts. I was aware of them because of the culture I’m in, but once I realized it was all just imagination, everything made much more sense.
I have been trying to learn christian apologetics in good faith, in order to determine the validity of christian beliefs. My conclusion is that it is house of cards reasoning. Layer after layer of assumptions. It amazes me at how stable these card houses can be, but on close inspection, they need to be held together with the glue of impenetrable jargon and credulity.
This whole discussion confuses me. For example, skeptical theism violates the assumption that there is an objective moral goodness. Suffering exists because god has “sufficient moral reasons”, and therefore when we do intervene to prevent suffering, god gets credit for making our lives better (more credit than the person intervening?). However, if we do not intervene, then god has a purpose that we do not understand. We are therefore never morally obligated to intervene, because whether we do or not is already known to god, and part of the morally sufficient plan.
People obviously do not think about religion this thoroughly. If we are discussing the existence of a generic god, then why is christianity and the bible even part of the discussion? We can use assumption violations to infer god’s limitations, e.g. he has no control over our behavior (free will), except when he does (he works through people you know). Why aren’t we discussing what god’s limitations are?
I am not an atheist because of the bible, or inconsistencies in theistic reasoning; although these things are fun to debate about. I am an atheist to every mythical creature in all of human literature. I do not believe in Greek gods, Roman gods, Norse gods, Jewish gods, Hindu gods, trolls, elves, fairies, leprechauns, kobolds, witches, spirits, ghosts, Q, I think there’s another one I’m forgetting. Oh yeah, millions of them. The presence of these things in stories is not evidence that they exist. The presence of cats and dogs in stories is not evidence that they exist either. Actually observing cats and dogs is the evidence that they exist.
If gods were mundane parts of existence that we can repeatedly observe, like cats and dogs, then there would be no controversy. Just like why we do not debate the existence of cats and dogs.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
That opens Pandora’s outhouse.
Lecture: Gwen Griffith – Does God Act? (Comparative Religion)
Skip the video. Just search the transcript for a paragraphs around:
“Vernon White” (second mention) and “Barry Miller” and “Muslim middle way”.
Re: Captain #54
Thanks Captain, I feel like I’m learning a lot here. Although I can’t help but feel that I am sinking into bullshit. I read the transcript, and I am left with the conclusion that the solution to every theological problem, especially inconsistencies with observed reality, and with logical contradictions, is just the addition of more assumptions. We have Randal’s sufficient moral reasons to solve PoE (is this his original contribution to theology?).
Now I find Maurice Wiles’ assumption that
(he nerfs his own powers!)
Vernon White assumes that
This literally makes no sense to me. Even the elucidation in the rest of the paragraph doesn’t explain what this actually means.
Keith Ward assumes that
How is this different from probability theory? Why do god’s alternative possible states appear exactly like the random chance we can measure? This assumption may actually be falsifiable, because we can measure this against distributions expected by random chance.
Ward also assumes five kinds of divine interactions. How can we determine which, if any, of these interactions explain any observation?
Is this not an argument from ignorance?
Another Ward assumption:
I apologize for harping on this. But if all these people can just hand wave assumptions into existence to solve “theological problems”, then can I just hand wave them all away as absurd? Or is it my job, as a critic, to dispute them one at a time, whack-a-mole style? I find it hard to believe that this is an actual, serious, scholarly debate.
It may not be rational to believe in god, but it is rational to convince other people to believe. I should have studied theology instead of neuroscience. I could make money selling books and lecturing about reasons to believe in god that sound completely convincing to the religious (apologetics). I don’t even need to create new arguments; I can just recycle the same ones that keep coming up; I know many of them already. I can hold my critics at bay by focusing on criticism of them. I may even be able to have my own flock to fleece. I don’t even need to recruit them, they recruit each other!
Mike M. says
I finally had the chance to listen to the debate and decided to contribute my 2 cents. I have not yet read other people’s comments so I’m sorry if I’m repeating anything.
First, as a theist, I found this debate just as frustrating to listen to as every other similar debate I’ve ever heard. Both presenters spoke past each other and I cannot say there was any significant contribution to the overall understanding of the issues. Instead of bouncing around from point to point, they would have done much better to choose one argument and dissect it into its essential elements and hopefully provide a little more insight into whether or not the argument is valid.
Re: The Evil God Argument
This argument can actually be flipped around like so:
– lets say for whatever reason we agree that a god who is partly good and partly bad is the most likely type of god to create a partly good and partly bad world.
– can we nonetheless conceive of a scenario wherein an evil god would create a partly good, partly evil world? Sure. A sadistic god might create a partly good world so that when evil happens it is perceived as that much more painful as it can now be contrasted with the good.
– but if we can conceive of a scenario where an evil god would create a partly good world, couldn’t there also be reasons why a good god would create a partly bad world?
Not sure if there is much value to this argument but neither did I see much value to the original argument.
Re: The Problem Of Evil
The atheist presenter made the claim that every attempt to resolve the problem of evil, including the Free Will defense has failed. I would have really liked to see him explain how exactly that defense has failed.
Instead he mentioned Plantiga, a contemporary, as if he is either the originator of that defense or the one who best articulates it when in fact the free will defense has been around for millennia and Plantiga’s version was only meant to have a limited application and was never intended to address the kinds of questions he is asking. He then gave an example of how that defense fails by stating that if HE was in god’s shoes he would definitely have stopped the rapist from hurting the little girl regardless of whether that interfered with his free will or not. But that has nothing to do with how the Free Will defense was intended to work.
So I’m going to give a brief description of the free-will argument as it has been traditionally used in Christian theology and maybe someone here can explain to me what part of this is irrational or in what sense this defense fails. In order to do this in as short a space as possible I will ignore some of the variables that are normally addressed when making this point and focus instead on the core of the argument.
Let’s say we have 10 individuals that were created with free will. An immediate problem the creator is faced with is the possibility that one or more of these individuals will choose to exercise his/their free will in a way that harms or otherwise obstructs the freedom of the others.
So the first measure a creator might take is to set up a set of rules detailing the rights and obligations of each created individual.
The next step however would need to be an education process explaining exactly why these rules are of benefit to one and all, since simply legislating behavior only goes so far.
But now what if in spite of these measures, 5 of the 10 created beings decide that the creator is overreacting with his restrictions and choose to no longer adhere to them. What should the creator do in this situation?
The first option the creator has is to try to resolve the situation immediately and restore order. But, since reasoning with them has obviously already failed, he would probably need to resort to more forceful measures. And this could mean several things:
– some might actually become emboldened by these measures and refuse to turn back no matter what.
– others might give in but obey only out of fear of punishment leading to a miserable existence of unwilling servitude.
– there is a good chance that some time later even these will decide to go back and do it all over again.
– the other 5 who had previously remained obedient will likely begin to obey out of fear as well and might even start to side with the defiant.
The other option the creator has is to separate the disobedient from the other five and to then just let things play out for some time. This would allow them to experience the consequences of their own actions and to better understand why the rules were in place to begin with. Allowing things to go on will inevitably lead to suffering and, while the creator could intervene and prevent that suffering, doing so would defeat the purpose since the full effect of disobedience would never be fully understood.
In the end,
– it will become very clear to everyone which is the better way of life.
– the purpose of the rules and the intentions of the creator would be understood through experience.
– those who choose to turn back to the creator will now submit to his code of conduct willingly.
– if anyone chooses to persist in disobedience even still, they will no longer have the sympathy of the others.
– most importantly, this problem will not occur again a second time since everyone now understands why it is a bad idea.
So there’s quite a bit more to the Free Will Defense than just that the creator allows people to suffer because he doesn’t want to interfere with anyone’s free will.
Now I am fully aware that there are significant differences between my scenario and the situation our world is in. For example, the five year old girl did not choose to disobey so why does she have to suffer? But, while addressing those differences IS essential, it will not make the above response any more rational if it happens to be irrational as is. And, if the above response IS rational, at least we could all agree that there are situations where an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent god COULD rationally allow suffering to exist.
Hi Mike M. Welcome to the discussion.
The problem with free will defense, which renders the rest of your argument irrelevant, is that there is no evidence to suggest that we actually have free will. There is evidence to suggest that we don’t, at least not as traditionally defined. Convergent evidence comes from neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. For example we find that human behavior is altered radically, and in very predictable ways, in cases such as substance abuse disorders, temporal lobe epilepsy, and selective brain lesions. This is confirmed in animal models. Our will is constrained by our neurobiology, and our species-typical behavioral repertoire. No free will = no free will defense of problem of evil.
Regarding the evil god argument, it seems silly to me to argue in favor of a perfectly good god. A god that is not perfectly good seems to fit our observations of reality better. If the facts contradict an assumption, then the assumption is probably wrong.
Mike M. says
The issue of weather or not we have free will was not brought up in the debate. The debator argued that there is no rational reason why an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent god would allow suffering even IF allowance was made for free will.
I do have some thoughts on the topic however and maybe we can talk more about it later since I rather take things on topic at a time.
Please, take your time. I have been patiently waiting for rational reasons to believe in any god.
Right, It has nothing to do with the real world. It’s only useful in theoretical arguments. The little girl example, I think, is selected on purpose, because it has those qualities that you mentioned… in no circumstance is omni-loving god committing atrocities to innocent little girls for the greater good, for their own good, whatever.
That’s b/c it’s rhetorical gobbledygook (or “poetry”)
god of the gaps.
Neil Degrasse Tyson does a good job speaking to this phenomenon on the recent Bill Moyers interview, it was in Part 2:
http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-neil-degrasse-tyson-on-science-religion-and-the-universe/ (at 22:05)
“…there tends to be an urge for people, especially religious people, to assert that across that boundary [of scientific discovery] into the unknown lies the handiwork of god.”
“…god is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance…”
“to the person who says ‘maybe dark matter is god?’: if the only reason why you’re saying that is b/c its a mystery, then get ready to have that undone”
This was one of the funniest parts of the debate, for me at least: Randal describes a scenario where a man calls his wife, who tells him it’s raining. We know we can accept witness testimony — we do it all the time, every day, just like when I call my wife to check the weather! Right??
A more appropriate analogy would be something along the lines of: I call my wife and she claims there’s a pink elephant in the kitchen. I come home and there is no pink elephant. Oh well, I guess the most likely explanation is that the elephant was actually there, because there were witnesses…. and look, the pink elephant’s tomb is empty too!
Why am I even typing this :-P
I don’t know, but I’m glad you did.
Back to the evil god argument for a minute, if I were ever to find sufficient reason to believe in a superpowerful, supernatural being, I would think, given our every experience of the natural world, that an amoral being would be the null hypothesis. The evil god business just points out that for every theistic argument for god’s goodness, there is a parallel argument for god’s evilness to counterbalance, leaving us still at the null hypothesis of either an amoral god, or no god.
In that way, I think even if you were to grant that the free will defence works, it only concludes that a good god might exist, but does nothing to make such a being more probable than an evil god, an amoral god, an admixture god, or most importantly, no god at all. In the tight constraints of this debate, maintaining even an infinitesimal probability of god’s existence was maybe all Randal was looking for, in which case, congratulations are due on a pyrrhic victory; but I don’t think those kinds of arguments nudge us even an inch away from the null hypothesis of an amoral universe.
Regarding free will defenses, there are even more problems than those previously mentioned. One I like from previous somewhat recent episodes is that free will doesn’t necessitate evil. I can choose to microwave French bread pizza for lunch or have a bowl of cereal. Neither is evil (nor particularly good, although definitely tasty). I have free will, and there is no evil. Even further, for those who believe in a heaven-like construct, is your free will destroyed when you die and reach it? If not, why couldn’t a god have just created heaven in the first place? If so, why is free will a priority for a god who deliberately eradicates it for eternity after a finite amount of time?
Again, this only matters if there is free will. My favorite quote about it closes a short essay under a Sci-ence.org comic:
“With this in mind, the output of the brain seems to be the hidden result (to our moment to moment selves) of emergent simple functions (built and multiplied and interconnected a billion fold). The function of a billion zombie processes working together and packing the accumulated results (thoughts) into one single vehicle (the body). The fact that we see the efficiency and not each individual action results in a misinterpretation of our own nature. Free-will is an illusion, and consciousness is a collection of illusions. We’re not just zombies, we’re billions of zombies.”
It may be rational to believe in evil god.
Evil god is the parsimonious solution to the problem of evil. A universe governed by an omnipotent, omniscient evil god is perfectly consistent with a universe that essentially guarantees suffering. Evil god would create people with self-awareness, so that we can be certain that there was suffering.
Evil god is consistent with the bible, and may therefore be the christian god. He would destroy people with floods. He would commit genocide, order the murder of men and children, and the rape of entire populations.
Evil god explains why he doesn’t want us believing in other gods, why he would demand to be worshiped, and threaten us with maximally horrible consequences. Evil god would also create a wonderful place for reward that may not be so wonderful (http://www.theaunicornist.com/2010/11/problem-with-heaven.html).
Evil god would create people, and forbidden knowledge, and temptation, and then punish them for doing what he knew they would do. He would punish future people, because these early people fell for his scheme. Then create religions to make people feel guilty about it. He would send an innocent man to get tortured and murdered specifically for the “sins” of these guilty people. He would resurrect that person in a mutilated state, and immediately send him to “heaven”.
Evil god would make this story maximally implausible, and then punish us for not believing it.
I argued for evil god in my bible study group during the discussion of why jesus only healed a small finite number of people, and not everyone even though he could (hint: he healed people because he needed signs and wonders. He healed people for power, not because he cared if they got better).
Uh oh, maybe I am becoming a theist. I’m a little scared now, and I might have nightmares tonight.
Lucy Harris says
If we don’t agree with Randall it can only be because we don’t understand his brilliance. I know this because I heard it by good testimony. QED.
Evil god would leave us in an overpopulated world with dwindling resources at perpetual war. He would create us to hate each other because of minor differences.
He would create us to have extreme sexual urges and then punish us for “succumbing to temptation”. He would create despised sexual minorities. He would be a misogynist with no regard for women’s reproductive health. He would make child birth dangerous.
He would cover us in deadly bacteria.
Do you know who evil god’s messengers would be? Joseph Ratzinger, Fred Phelps, Ken Hamm, Ray Comfort, John Hagee, James Dobson, Tammy Faye Bakker, Pat Robertson, Randal Rauser. Evil god’s institutions would be the vatican, focus on the family, 700 club, discovery institute, creation museum.
I’m going to stop here before I think of any more.
Evil god would also institute the central barbarism and absurdity of Bible-based and too many other ancient religions: ritualistic blood sacrifice.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@Mike M. #57:
Even in an imaginary world where violations could only cause self-harm. You’re still arguing that they must suffer, because the god is incapable of suitable revelation. The god itself neither able to persuade them that the code of conduct was best, nor directly convey what they would have learned.
But the following is what your response to the problem of evil entails.
Translation: Consciously allowing the torture and killing of innocents is not only acceptable but
praiseworthyOMNI-BENEVOLENT. Victims get to be educational props because god is bad at communication… and isn’t omnipotent enough to manage people any better than a human dictator enforcing legislation.
Additionally, “the full effect of disobedience” is whatever the god would allow to happen… If it chose to interru-
Oh. The full effect is deliberately cruel, as collective punishment.
Article: Wikipedia – Timeline of Genocides
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
* Article: Wikipedia – Collective Responsibility
Counter Apologist says
You guys are being way, way too hard on Randal here. I don’t agree with him on the issue, ultimately anyway, but in the context of the debate I don’t think you can say he did poorly.
I usually enjoy the debates you guys share in the podcast, but this one was disappointing. There was a lot of jargon and name dropping (skimming the comments, I notice others had similar complaints) that probably sounded fine to anyone who is well-read on philosophical scholarship, but for those of us who don’t have a PhD in philosophy or theology, much of it went over our heads. A lot of the arguments were the form of “X disproved that in his book Y” or “You need to read Z or you’re ignorant.” That’s all well and good, unless your audience isn’t familiar with all of those authors.
Randal pushed the argument of authority way too much by saying that, since there are scientists are theists and science is rational, therefore, believe in God is rational. But just because someone is rational in one aspect of their lives doesn’t mean every idea they have is based on rationality. Newton’s belief in alchemism is a prime example. That and the constant nitpicking over definitions really annoyed me. Maybe next time, you should have an agreed upond definition of rationality before beginning the debate.
I also noticed that the arguments became increasingly personal, especially on Randal’s part, by calling Chris ignorant and irrational. All in all, an unfortunate debate.
Jason Filak says
I think Randal was on the right track when he began to sort of redefine the premise of the debate to include all people at every conceivable point in the history of belief in God because, as we all can understand and except, that leading up to the enlightenment and the advances in Science that our ignorance about the world around us is slowly starting to diminish. Through that understanding we should be able to conclude, rationally, that God probably doesn’t exist. As usual though… Randall does not follow his own thought process through to conclusion.
John Snyder says
Guys, I thought you learned your lesson from the listeners last time you had Rauser on your show. This guy is a joke – he’s stuck on arguments that first year philosophy students would be ashamed to make. And it’s not that he’s disingenuous, he genuinely doesn’t understand why his arguments don’t make sense. PLEASE stop promoting this guy’s nonsense by featuring it on your show. We REALLY love good debate, but Rauser is so painful to listen to that I once again had to end it halfway through.
I’m not hard on him because I disagree. I’m hard on him because he is an ass. Calling him an ass, or a shit head, or a joke, or the messenger of an evil god are not uncharitable. Strictly speaking they are not true. No one is literally any of these things.
This is uncharitable. I was willing to believe that he lies for money. I was willing to believe that he lashes out at critics when they disagree, because he does not want his audience to be aware of the reasons for the criticisms. Again, for money, because an apologetics audience generally wants their religious beliefs reinforced, and are interested in the merits of the arguments.
However, when he says this in a comments thread (and it is him who said it, not the other commenters.)
When he calls me ignorant, instead of explaining his disagreement with my arguments (including criticizing his opening statements), when he says that I do not have real understanding of his arguments, then I feel fully justified in calling him an ass. When someone tells me that they do not understand me, then it is my fault, and I need to do a better job explaining. It is not the audience’s fault for not having read the same things that I have. He does this to Chris during the debate as well. If he genuinely does not know the flaws in his arguments, then he is also an idiot.
Sorry, correction: apologetics audiences are not interested in the merits of the arguments.
David Long says
Randal doesn’t seem to have a handle on logical fallacies. This may work with his regular audience, but if I can make a rash generalization, probably not with us. And while I would let one or two slip through in a live debate as unintended, these were prepared speeches and responses, so this is not excusable.
Here is a list of the ones I remember ( I’m paraphrasing his statements).
Appeal to authority ( he read a rather long and boring list of “smart” people who believe in God.)
Appeal to popularity ( so many people believe in God it can’t be irrational.)
Argument from ignorance ( I believe he used the argument “God is so much greater than we are that he can do this which seems evil to us, but isn’t because God is so much greater”, “Like talking to a dog”.)
False analogy ( You can learn from the testimony of others, If you ask your wife, what’s the weather outside…;) [ The unstated premise here is that if she tells you she saw God outside you would equally believe her? What if she saw Godzilla outside? I find it “STAGGERING” that an adult with some knowledge of philosophy and analytical thinking can make this statement with a straight face let alone SEVERAL TIMES!]
And while not fallacies, his trying to shift the burden of proof doesn’t help his case. Both parties in the debate have a burden of proof. We start with the null hypothesis and prove either that God belief is rational or not rational. Randal spent too much time attacking Chris’s arguments, and not enough building his own.
Much of what Randal “argued” was actually assertion without supporting data.
While “Is Belief in God Irrational” is succinct, it’s far too broad. The assumption is the Christian god, but even that is a vastly broad topic ( wikipedia says there are 41000 Christian denominations).
I’m also dissatisfied with the definition of God given. It’s came out of nowhere. There should be documentation showing why that definition is valid; Is this Biblical? Where in the Bible, are there counter examples?
I’m not harping on Randal because he’s a theist. I’m harping on Randal because he did such a terrible job of arguing his case. Did he think that he could cover up his amateurish fallacy ridden statements with a references to philosophers that support his arguements? or that listing a number of people who support his side would obscure the fact that the vast majority don’t?
Randal don’t insult your audience so.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@David Long #79:
See my comment at #52.
See my comment at #50.
The linked podcast, while long, is a heckuva ride.
Be prepared to have your mind blown by the man TIME magazine called
“America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God”.
Mike M. says
@CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain #71
Maybe I am not understanding you correctly but it seems that the majority of what you are saying has to do with things that I never actually addressed. I think I made it pretty clear that my illustration was not meant to explain things like why the innocent suffer since the 5 individuals in my scenario were not innocent.
What I tried to point out is that the traditional free-will response to the good god/bad world objection entails more than just, ‘god does not stop suffering because he does not want to interfere with the free will of the one causing it.’
The one comment that does apply to what I said is that ‘they must suffer, because the god is incapable of suitable revelation.’
My argument in #57 can be summarized as follows:
1) God creates free-willed individuals.
2) These individuals choose to misuse that freedom.
3) God allows them to do so for some limited amount of time.
You are saying that if god did a better job explaining to them why disobedience is bad, number 2 above would have never happened. But try to imagine the best possible job a god could do in revealing to these individuals why disobedience is bad. Is there still a chance that a free-willed individual might choose to disregard all that and disobey anyway? If so, we still get to number two and my question for you is, what should the god do next?
I am not sure if you are also saying that disobedience should not necessarily lead to suffering but I think that point is settled by definition. In other words, if you set up rules for the purpose of preventing suffering it follows that breaking them would cause suffering.
At ~1:38:20 Randal says:
“Having a graduate or post-graduate degree in philosophy doesn’t ensure that you have informed opinions on the quality of arguments for all fields in philosophy.”
Yes. This is true. So why did he choose to invoke physicists’, geneticists’, and others’ opinions on whether a god exists or not as proof that it’s obviously rational to have belief in god? I’m not sure how he can be aware that one may be very educated in a field but be obliviously unaware about the arguments involved with other areas within one’s own field, yet feels as though it’s positive proof that “people who are rational in some area of their lives necessitates that they are also rational in the god belief area of their lives”.
Is Randal really boiling rational belief down to the point where uninformed opinions are rational because the person holding the belief simply wouldn’t know any better? If this is the case, I can be fully rational while spouting complete nonsense about the math involved with astrophysics. If this isn’t the case, and some amount of informed opinion is necessary, he completely obliterates the bulk of his own arguments with what I originally quoted.
Hallquist isn’t off the hook either in my opinion with a few statements that were made which aren’t the most sound statements to make, but Randal blatantly destroyed the bulk of his arguments with that single line, and demonstrated an unforgivable inconsistency with his position(s).
Ash Lux says
For the love of god please no more debates with Randal Rauser. He barely brings anything worthwhile to the table.
Do you have a link to this article? My google-fu must be weak because I am having trouble tracking it down.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
The phrase appears at the top of Plantinga’s wikipedia page.
Citation leads here.
Paywalled Article: TIME – Modernizing the Case for God (1980)
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@Mike M. #81:
That argument allows them to harm each other, with a blind eye to the ones harmed, so as to teach abusers how awful things would be. You suggested taking all individuals who broke the code once and putting them together in a prison without guards, because the warden insists that they feel “the full effect of disobedience”.
You’re asking me to shore up your fantasy against the problem.
You might look into why the creator would create individuals too stupid, insane, sociopathic, or masochistic to recognize the rules’ merit, such that even vivid revelations surpassing the ghost of Christmas future couldn’t educate them.
You made no such definition.
You had the creator set rules. Then it employed protracted suffering to ‘motivate’ them to submit.
Mike M. says
I will come back to the other points later but for now let me make sure I understand you correctly.
I was not talking about individuals that broke the code once but about a decision all five made to no longer submit to the code in spite of explanations about the purpose and importance of the code.
Are you saying that instead they should each have been placed in isolation from each other as well as the other five? If so, for how long? What should the next step have been?
Mike M #59
I am puzzled. I think you misunderstand what it means that there is no rational reason for this god, even IF allowance was made for free will. The problem of evil is more than just our moral behavior, but also why there is suffering from non-human causes. Even if we accept the highly dubious free will assumption, there are other cases in which no human intervention is possible to prevent a suffering. The omnibenevolent creator god created suffering.
You are clearly suggesting that the ends justify the means; that is, it’s okay (it’s actually morally good because god is omnibenevolent) for innocent people to suffer from human brutality, because in the end justice will be served, punishment will be meted out, and everyone will have learned what the consequences of violating the rules are.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@Mike M. #87:
So causing harm is okay when one doesn’t to live up to the code, but the real crime is vowing never to submit?
I’m saying you created a nested scenario with 5 instead of 10, but this time with the veiled premise that everyone deserves whatever harm befalls them at the hands of other (more) dangerous inmates.
You have more fundamental problems, but subjecting one person to the collateral damage of another’s ‘learning experience’ as coercion to submit is particularly sadistic.
Mike M. says
@CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain
That’s fine, but I am interested in hearing your non-sadistic alternative.
Mike M. says
Not sure what part is confusing. I mentioned several times that my illustration cannot be used to explain why the innocent suffer since the 5 individuals in my story made a conscious choice to disobey. Hallquist mentioned that it is irrational for a powerful and loving god to EVER allow suffering and I am just saying for now that there are at least SOME situations where it WOULD be rational.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@Mike M. #90:
You’re asking me to shore up your fantasy against the problem of evil. Again.
Mike M. says
@CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain
Well, it seems that if you can determine one scenario to be sadistic, you should also be able to describe a better alternative.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Mike’s trying to demonstrate that if he imagines an indefensibly inept and sadistic creator in a gratingly stupid scenario, the suffering that results is inevitable, and thus necessary.
And because omnibenevolence was asserted, *that* must constitute a rational argument that suffering is compatible with an omnipotent / omniscient / omnibenevolent god, sometimes.
Invites to patch up the idiocy are an attempt to switch roles and make his sabotaged fantasy YOUR fault.
– Either you will fail, and he’ll tell you it still won’t work.
– Or you will have finally solved the problem of evil.
– Or you’ll rewrite the scenario from scratch to not be as stupid, but then you’re proposing a whole new god of your own that nobody involved believed in.
Notice Mike is FAR more interested in my revising it for him than in using the numerous hints he’s already been given to do so himself.
His responses to specific objections have been “I will come back to the other points later”, “That’s fine”, and “you should also be able to describe a better alternative.” He can’t even be bothered to do a trivial google search for better arguments.
Couldn’t an omni-omni god have created a universe not only with people who could understand its reasoning (as mentioned before) and without non-agent produced suffering (as mentioned before) but also without the physical ability to do harm at all? Wouldn’t having no evil alleviate the problem of evil? So, why create a place where the capacity for evil and suffering is so great if one is omni-benevolent?
Not to harp a point, but it’s only when we assume that god is both omni benevolent and omnipowerful do we run into the “problem.” CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain really has it laid out, Mike M.
Here’s your alternative: create a universe with life made of gaseous entities whose mode of communication is contact. No physical harm possible. Boom. No problem of evil because there’s no evil. Or, as mentioned before, make people capable of understanding completely god’s reasons. Boom. Or, just maybe, don’t be a dick by making largely arbitrary rules that run specifically counter to much of the will you knew you were going to create. Boom. How many alternatives do you want, Mike M.?
On an unrelated note: “I mentioned X reasons this is wrong in my book. You need to buy it, read it, and address it before I have to bother” in a debate is the “My girlfriend lives in Canada. You wouldn’t know her,” of debate tactics. It’s a debate. State the reasons so they can be addressed/vanquish me already.
This is the confusing part. It is not clear what you intend to demonstrate with your illustration. Suffering may be rational, but that is irrelevant because it would still be suffering.
Lausten North says
FYI; Mike M has visited before. You can follow his link to his blog and see his other arguments. They follow similar patterns to this one. He will continue to demand that you accept his limited scenario and allude to how he will get on to some larger point if you do so. Several good points have been made by JonP, Compulsory and others. He has that ability to appear like he is using logic to get to a conclusion, but after a while, you realize he’s not.
Re: Mike M’s fixation with conceiving of an omnipotent “loving” entity who creates creatures and then physically torments them,
The idea that anyone’s conception of a super-enlightened, all-knowing, all-loving creator entity could possibly somehow include scenarios where this entity is creating creatures and then physically tormenting them is fucking crazy. And scary.
Mike, can we assume you personally believe in physical punishment? For children, adults, or anybody?
Were you physically “punished” by loved ones as a child (or adult for that matter)?
That might go some way in explaining your notion of a “loving” creator who nonetheless needs to torture and torment its own creations “for their own good”.
Anyway, Mike’s scenario doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
What reason would this group of creatures have to conclude that it might be a good idea to engage in some kind of obviously futile, impotent, self-defeating revolt against their all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving creator overlord??
Mike says they simply “decide that the creator is overreacting with his restrictions”. (Mike’s fantasy god is apparently gendered and male)
Why didn’t the super enlightened entity just create beings who were capable of fully understanding the true nature of their situation in the first place, endowing them with rational decision-making skills?
Did the entity intentionally create beings who are too stupid/unable to grasp the futility of revolting against such a force?
(…and when some make these poor choices, the entity then physically torments them as a consequence…??)
Did the entity purposely instill within them desires which run contrary to the rule set?
Well this is starting to sound sinister; cross out “all-loving”. It’s not even sensible.
Or…perhaps the decision to rebel would be rational for these poor creatures if the entity intentionally hides from them, never plainly revealing the true nature of their situation in the first place?
And the entity decides to never clearly elucidate this set of rules, which must be followed against threat of violence?
Maybe the entity decides to only make these rules available, oh let’s say, in a book:
in one book, *ever*, and this book is intentionally made to appear exactly as it would if it were just another ancient man-made religious text?
This is sounding more like some kind of evil trickster god…
Lausten North #98
This is true for every christian apologist I have ever met. I am still patiently waiting for the good arguments.
I thought that this was one of the assumptions for god’s characteristics.
You should be careful, because evil god knows what you say, and what you’re thinking. You are putting your immortal soul in danger by talking back. You may also be putting the theists’ souls in danger too, by planting the seed of doubt in their minds.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
There was this talking snake, y’see…
The more I listen to debates like this, the more convinced I am of the Biblical adage that “there is nothing new under the sun,” especially as it pertains to Christian apologetics.
“There are scientists who believe in God” and “logic comes from God” are on my personal top 30 list.
It would be nice if I could come across an argument that hasn’t already been beaten to death countless times before.
Yes, this. I really want there to be good arguments and evidence to explain why people would think that their god beliefs are in any way reasonable. This seems to be a perpetuation of a very old debate, and everything that we can come up with has already been said before.
My conclusion is that this debate is still a thing because there is money involved. I can see how this would work: There is a large group of people that are so conditioned to believe these god stories that they will latch on to any argument (maybe every argument) that affirms those beliefs. This audience will believe any argument that contradicts opposing beliefs (e.g. atheism, science, arguments that demonstrate contradictions, etc.). They will believe anyone who is a member of their group, and defend this person and this person’s arguments, no matter how ridiculous. They like to do this, and they spend money on it to buy the books, go to the lectures, read the blogs, etc.
All of the arguments are already known. The books write themselves. Add in a personal “testimony” so as to “witness” for the faith, and call it the introduction, or chapter 1. These personal stories share common features. I was lost, but then I found jesus and was saved from a horrible fate. I grew up in a religious household, but I rebelled as a teenager/college student. I gave up my hedonistic party lifestyle before it ruined me, because of (insert personal epiphany story here). Or my favorite, I was an atheist just like you once.
Next come a chapter on argument from authority (gospels are eyewitness testimony). Maybe a chapter with argument from excluded middle (e.g. liar, lunatic, lord). I’m sure I don’t need to list all of them to make my point. It’s even possible to create tautological arguments obfuscated by hidden assumptions and misused philosophy jargon. People can sell millions of copies of these books!
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
This is what fascinates and haunts me about religious studies.
Not that the methods of conditioning could be applied for other purposes, but that they CAN create that effect.
And that they already have been applied, everywhere.
To balance it out, I find the Teratology of ideas through history is interesting, entertaining, and edifying in its own right.
I have been asked, by religious people that I met for the first time, what my religious beliefs are. It’s getting-to-know-you conversation for them. They usually ask because they hope that I will reciprocate and ask them what their beliefs are. That’s what they really want to talk about.
They do not usually understand what I mean when I say I believe religion is a money making scam. I explain that if I were as interested in religion as I am neuroscience, then I would have studied religion instead, and make my career out of it. I would have two basic options, one good, and one evil.
The good option is religious scholar. I would study the history, sociology, anthropology, etc. of religions of my choice. This path is academic, and thus not lucrative.
The evil option is pastor (or other church leader). I would go to seminary and study theology so that I would learn what I needed to say. My personal beliefs would be irrelevant. The goal would be to say whatever I needed to get butts in the pews. I would need to say whatever it took to get the head nods and the amens. I wouldn’t be telling the audience anything new. I would be telling them what they already believe so that they agree with me, and thus put more money in the collection plate.
I then brought up famous cases of people doing this (like Pat Robertson), and the flocking-the-fleece phenomenon. The response I heard was a variation of no true scotsman. My response to this was that it doesn’t matter if they are True Christians, because either way they are still doing this..
At best it would be performance art and dramatic story telling, where the audience pays for entertainment. At worst I would sell them books, concert performances (mega pastor FTW), and if I were particularly audacious, “bible-based” investment opportunities.
I have never heard this word applied to ideas before. I would be interested if you could elaborate.
my funny editing mistake:
flocking-the-fleece = fleecing-the-flock
Mike M. says
In looking over all the comments it seems that I might be the only theist here so I think the forum could benefit from some thoughts from an opposing point of view. It’s not always best to hear only the opinion of those who already agree with you. I personally try to consume 4-5 times as much content put out by atheists than I do by other theists.
As already mentioned, I concur with most everyone else that the debate could have been better. I will start with some suggestions for Rauser, just in case he is still reading the comments. I realize that I am basically the counterpart of the guy in the bleachers yelling at a pro ball player; I know I would have done much worse a job in an actual debate. But a little bit of feedback never hurt anyone.
1) Definition of Rational – I think the debate could have survived just fine without hammering this point. I realize that from a technical point of view that might have been the right call, but I think everyone involved is pretty familiar with the common use of the term. It might have been something to bring up only if the discussion started deviating from the common use.
2) Rational in Context – This was also an unnecessary point in my opinion. What we are all concerned with is if belief in God is rational for an intelligent, well educated person in the 21th century and not someone living in the jungle. I don’t know what context could possibly make it rational for one such person today and not for another.
3) The Definition of God – I would not have agreed on this point so quickly. It made it possible for Chris to use the evil god argument so as to not need to respond to your list of arguments like the Cosmological etc.
4) The Consensus – it almost feels like the whole debate deteriorated into a back and fourth about whether there is or isn’t a consensus. Does it really matter?
5) Appeals to authority and Ad hominems – Other people have said plenty about this…
6) Chris’ Arguments – Chris brought up 2 main arguments, suffering and the evil god. I would have liked to see much more time spent actually responding to them as difficult as that would have been.
And now for Hallquist and everyone else here. Someone could definitely write a book called “Theists are from Mars and Atheists from Venus.” There are enormous difficulties with most discussions between the two camps and it is my belief that the fault lies with both of them. There is very little effort made to try to understand the other side better and, as a result, these conversations seldom lead to any real progress in understanding. I am personally more interested in helping bridge the gap in communication than I am in actually winning a debate. So to that end, here are some things that, in my opinion, make these conversations unnecessarily difficult, things that could be avoided:
A. Capstone Arguments
A capstone argument is a term I just made up to denote a type of argument that cannot be answered adequately without first assembling a complete theoretical support structure underneath it. It is a type of question that requires prerequisite questions to be addressed first.
The best way to illustrate this is to use an example people here can relate to. Imagine a creationist demanding in an evolution debate taking place in front of a church congregation that the evolution of the eye be fully explained to everyone’s satisfaction. But the majority of those present don’t even understand basic concepts like genetic variation or natural selection.
These type of arguments are not necessarily fallacious but can still be used unfairly in debates by demanding that someone explain in 20 minutes something which could, at least in the case above, take several semesters to explain fully. It places a person in a position where they either have to give a quick answer no one will understand or a long answer no one will stay awake through. Under such circumstances, would it be totally unreasonable for a person to say, ‘Hey, why don’t we leave the evolution of the eye aside for now and discuss first the concept of Natural Selection? Once we settle that and a few other preliminary points, we can come back to your question.’
Questions like why God would allow a little girl to suffer or the Amalekite genocide (from Justin’s debate last year) are that kind of questions on the theist side. They simply cannot be answered without working through a series of individual ideas that, when taken together will provide a complete answer. And, this “complete answer” could very well still be wrong. But not giving your opponent a chance to even formulate it isn’t going to prove anything.
So what can be done instead? Let’s take the question about the little girl that was tortured and killed. It is not practical to expect an answer to THAT question within this debate format. Consider instead first having a debate on the question of whether a powerful/loving god should EVER allow suffering. If this question is not answered then the matter is settled and the little girl does not need to be brought up. If however it is determined that there are cases where such a god could allow suffering, then a second debate can determine if the principles drawn in part one can apply to the innocent and under what circumstances.
Both camps should be mindful of complex questions the other side must address and not take advantage of such for the purpose of getting the upper hand in a debate.
B. The Omni-attribute Wild-card
Another thing that makes this type of discussions very unproductive is defining god as an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent being. Both camps use these attributes as a sort of wild-card in debates:
– Theists say things like, ‘who are we to presume to know what an omnipotent/omniscient god would do in any given situation?’
– Atheists flip that around by saying, ‘If God is omnipotent/omniscient, couldn’t he have found a better solution to problem X?’
And thus the discussion is kept in the dark since nothing definite can be said about something none of us can wrap our minds around; if such attributes are even actually possible. We just keep speaking past each other and then get together with our own people and comment about how irrational the other side is.
And it’s not like there is a consensus on the definition of the words either. People have historically defined those words very differently. So, if nothing else, at least first agree on a precise definition of what each term means and doesn’t mean.
But then why use them at all? If a god existed that was powerful enough to speak a universe into existence and yet still wasn’t exactly OMNI-potent, or if a being existed that knew the exact placement of every atom in the universe and every thought that any intelligent being has ever thought and yet wasn’t actually omniscient, if such a being existed instead of an omnipotent/omniscient one, is a person more justified in being a theist or an atheist? So if an atheist could successfully prove that an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent god could not possibly exist, what exactly has he really accomplished?
Now someone might argue that it is the theists’ fault these terms even come up. So let me address for a second any theists that might happen to read this. In my experience not one of the Biblical proof-texts I have ever come across used to support God’s omni-attributes actually demands an omni- interpretation. They can all be just as accurately applied to a god that is less than omni-________. So why then do people insist on making claims about god that he never actually makes about himself? Or, if god was NOT omnipotent but could still speak the universe into existence, would he be any less capable of solving your problems?
More importantly though, my concern is not with what people actually believe but with what topics should be taken up in debates between theists and atheists. Is it really worth wasting endless hours discussing something that neither side could say anything definitive about and which has no practical application even if they could? Don’t theists and atheists have much more important differences to work out?
Why not instead ask more practical questions like, ‘Is it rational to believe in a being that is not confined to the fundamental forces of our universe and is responsible for making the existence of this universe possible?’ (Daniel Schechter, #27 above made a similar suggestion)
Or, regarding the issue of suffering we could ask, ‘is it rational to believe that a powerful yet loving entity would allow suffering to exist?’ Introducing the omni-attributes into that conversation does nothing except to guarantee that neither the participants nor any observers will gain anything useful from the exercise.
As a final thought, I want to consider the aspect of Limited Options. When we judge the actions of a human being we always take into consideration their limitations. Cutting off a child’s leg is a horrible thing. But if this was done by a physician in the middle ages trying to save the child’s life after a severe infection, we interpret this action as heroic rather than tyrannical. Even the child’s parents and the child himself when older would agree. In such cases we don’t judge the action in isolation but in contrast with available alternatives. The doctor could have let the child die, he could have done something else which, though less painful, would not have saved the child, but instead he chose to cut the leg, which, given the alternatives, was the loving thing to do.
If we do not define god as an omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent being then we would have to evaluate god’s actions in contrast with available alternatives as well. This is one reason why I think atheists prefer debates that use the omni definition of god. It allows them to ignore the subject of limitations altogether when evaluating his character. However this is not necessarily a correct conclusion. An argument can be made that even an omnipotent god could face limitations under certain circumstances and in fact, many people have historically defined omnipotence in this way. In the end, it all boils down to how a person defines the word and this definition is entirely arbitrary.
C. No Independent Evaluation
Often when talking to atheists I am presented with arguments in the form, ‘why would a loving god perform action X?’ But, when I try to respond, the person finds a way to twist things around so that god still ends up looking cruel and vicious. So in essence, the validity of my response is judged based on whether that person can or cannot fathom some malicious alternative explanation, as if there is ever a time when a vivid imagination WOULDN’T be able to concoct a malicious alternative explanation.
We don’t judge people like that in every day life unless we have something against them to begin with. People that hate Obama think the guy can do no right. So, for the most part, atheists can put a negative spin on just about anything and theists the opposite in their favor. There is no independent, unbiased, impartial process of evaluation used to determine the validity of any argument; we just simply judge things based on what those who agree with us think.
In a legal trial considerable time is spent making sure an impartial jury is carefully selected. People undergo a careful screening process to make sure they are not in any way inclined to side one way or another before hearing the arguments. They don’t ask the prosecutor or the defense attorney to make the final decision about which side should win.
I think sometimes atheists deceive themselves into thinking that unlike religious people, they don’t have a vested interest in any particular point of view but are simply skeptics. They are just trying to get to the truth, to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and can therefore trust themselves to be impartial. But in reality, whether they have started off irreligious or have had to deconstruct a religious worldview and replace it with another, they are just as emotionally invested in their view of reality as the religious. True skeptics would be equally skeptical of both sides of the argument while in the same time willing to give both sides the benefit of the doubt.
In my opinion, until we find a way to evaluate our ideas using some type of impartial, independent standard, we will just continue spinning our wheels. I realize this is not an easy task since, when it comes to religion, no one is truly unbiased. But I think if we invest some time and energy towards this end, solutions could be found that would still be better than what we have now.
D. Low Standards of Proof
I ran into this problem here when I asked for an alternative way that god could have handled a situation which would have been better overall. The person, while certain of god’s incompetence, felt that I was being unreasonable asking for alternatives. But how could we possibly know that god chose an inferior course without properly evaluating his other options?
Let me illustrate this with an off-topic example someone mentioned in a previous comment (Daniel Schechter, #27).
“As an additional aside, an “intelligent” designer would NEVER have run the urethra through the center of the prostate unless that designer WANTED to cause horrible suffering in the large number of men whose prostates become enlarged, requiring agonizing surgery or death by kidney failure or a burst bladder as the urethra becomes slowly choked off.”
Without meaning any disrespect to the author of that statement, there are some problems with this type of arguments. First, it is incredibly easy to point out supposed flaws in a design. A 10 year old looking at a BMW could claim German engineers don’t know what they are doing or else they would never have done X or Y. So should we just accept that there are a problem any time someone claims there are?
And then, how would we go about proving them wrong? Would we need to think up every possible alternative configuration so that we could then show that the current one is better in contrast? What would prevent them from then saying that there are still other options we’ve missed which are better yet?
Rather, if someone thinks that a design is flawed, it is their responsibility to show how that design could be improved upon. This would allow us to then place the two arrangements side by side and ask questions like:
1) Would the alternative configuration for the urethra/prostate work well not just in principle but as part of a complete human being?
2) Would it require other aspects of our anatomy to be changed in order to accommodate it leading to potentially bigger problems?
3) If the change is made at the genetic level, would this alternative work well throughout the entire developmental process?
4) Would it continue to work well for many generations and in different environments/conditions?
5) If genetic defects are to occur thousands of generations down the line, could the resulting problems be even worse than the current ones (in case the current problems are themselves the result of genetic defects)?
These are just some of the questions that would need to be considered in order to determine that a design really is subpar.
This same type of incomplete arguments are often used by theists in evolution debates (basically, both sides use them freely whenever they don’t have the burden of proof). Creationists say things like ‘evolution is wrong because there’s just no way that X could have ever evolved.’ This as if scientists are supposed to just stop doing science because creationists think there’s a flaw with the theory. Why not instead come up with an alternative, scientifically valid model that does a better job accounting for all the data and then there will be something to talk about?
In my opinion, it is irresponsible to put much weight on the objections of people who are not willing to do the work necessary to show that there’s a better alternative. Anyone can make such objections even without any knowledge of the subject and there’s no way to verify that they are right. Making these type of arguments betrays a lock of interest in actually getting to the buttom of an issue just as long as some degree of doubt can be introduced to confuse those who ARE looking for answers.
Quick Response to the Latest Comments
1) Why discuss only suffering when the actual concern was not suffering in general but the suffering of innocents?
Because, as mentioned above, I believe one discussion needs to take place before the other.
2) Why this strange scenario?
As mentioned earlier, the most concise version of the Free-Will response is not,
– suffering exists because people have free-will
a) there is free will
b) free will was misused
c) god did not immediately interfere
I used an analogy to illustrate how this works. However, I wanted several things from this analogy:
a) to eliminate all unnecessary variables so we could focus on the essential points.
b) to have one group that disobeys and one that remains faithful so that god has to take both into consideration.
c) to have more than one individual on each side since otherwise, if god separated them, there would be no one left to hurt but one’s self. But I wanted to keep the number manageable so I chose 10 with 5 on each side.
I did not just pull this scenario out of thin air; it is a miniature representation of the traditional Christan narrative. God created many free-will beings, some of which rebelled while others remained faithful. There are many more elements to the Christian narrative but, like I said, I wanted to keep only the necessary elements to evaluate the preliminary question of whether a loving god should ever allow suffering period.
I have no particular attachment to this analogy so if someone feels they could come up with a better one then by all means, as long as they maintain the elements under discussion.
3) Why couldn’t god convince them NOT to disobey?
This question is similar to people saying, ‘if they had been better parents that kid would have turned out better.’ The reality is that this isn’t always so because children have minds of their own.
4) Why allow the suffering?
Because there are cases when people do learn from personal experience what they refused to learn from the advice or the mistakes of others.
5) Why not make people out of gas?
I feel that I should ask first, ‘is that your final answer?’
6) Also, let us be grateful to my buddy Lausten for making sure the forum is not accidentally deceived by my ability to appear logical at first. Good looking out:)
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
@Mike M. #108:
Think more carefully about your responses. You’ve been informed repeatedly, in detail, how what you write does not mean what you want to say (or that your premises lead to a contradiction with other positions you have). Invest some time and energy into addressing that.
It is not constructive to deny your failure by writing a wall of text afterward to declare the argument YOU made was unfair, the criticism it received unwarranted, your critics fatally biased, and the terminology involved useless and misguided.
From your comment at #57:
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
For lack of a better term, I coined one.
Surveying the logical and practical consequences of unworkable concepts through history, and their origins. As they get incorporated into complicated frameworks or become more widely adopted, they get more opportunities for surprising absurd interactions. They may have made sense at the time, or been planted by someone for personal gain, slipped in by accident or bad luck, arose from a mish mash of irreconcilable conventions, or proposed as a placeholder that was eventually taken for granted.
Something like James Burke’s “Connections” or “The Day the Universe Changed”, except for perniciously malformed ideas. *
For example, Crimson Wool’s comment on the next RD episode, 124.
Somewhat related speculation I came across recently:
Video: Mark Pagel at Edge – Infinite Stupidity
* If you haven’t seen those TV series, find them :D
Hi Mike M.,
I appreciate your continued engagement in this discussion, and I’m glad we didn’t scare you away:) I do prefer to have someone willing to debate the countervailing position; otherwise we just preach to the proverbial choir. I was polite enough to read your entire long post and reply, so you do not have the length of my post as an excuse not to read it.
I admit that I agree with much of your meta analysis regarding the theist vs atheist debate. Your post was too long to go point by point. However, I disagree with many of the conclusions that you make, and you definitely have some points that qualify as red herrings. I will leave it up to the other readers to find them.
A point I want to make is this:
Your illustration requires this assumption to be true. We have already discussed this, and I will refer you to my post #58 to explain some of the reasons why I would reject this assumption. This assumption is critical to the christian narrative. Without this assumption it becomes impossible to blame people for the fact that there is suffering in the world (i.e. The Fall). You do not need to repeat your illustration again, we read you the first time.
Your rejection of my evidence against free will does not help you. I will accept this assumption only if you can provide me with a positive test that determines that we do have free will.
Nothing, you are correct in accepting that this particular argument is irrelevant. The argument from suffering does not prove atheism, and it does not lead to the conclusion that atheism is the only rational alternative. It reveals the contradictions between the omni- assumptions and observations of the reality that we observe suffering. If this god is also assumed to have created reality, then at least one of the other assumptions is wrong. There are many possible solutions to this problem that would not exclude the possibility of a god. Among them the assumption that god is not omnipotent, but perhaps with some to be determined amount of potency. That’s another debate.
Regarding the question: Is belief in god irrational? If we reject at least one of the omni assumptions, and define god as anything we want, then the answer is probably no (i.e. it is rational to believe). This is why I tried to explain why it may be rational to believe in evil god in post #67.
You are missing the point of these types of questions, including your attempt to address the questions at the end of your post #108.
These questions are absurd. They are not answerable, or at least there is no way to objectively verify that the answers are correct. Would you have us consider the set of all possible answers? The fact that this problem even generates these questions indicates to me that the problem itself is absurd. Real problems generate questions that, if answered, solve the problem.
Allow me to provide an example of a problem that relies on answerable questions to solve. My example will also demonstrate the burden of proof problem. The burden of proof is on the one making the claim that a statement is true, not the one making the claim that it is not true. The more extraordinary the claim, the proof is required.
1. Pretend that I told you that I have a cure for cancer. You can’t prove that I don’t. However, I would need to demonstrate that my cure works before an ethical doctor will prescribe it.
2. If I claim that it cures all cancer, then I am making an extraordinary claim that requires that I demonstrate it for all possible cancers. Therefore, my claim is highly unlikely to be true.
3. If I claim that it cures lung cancer, then I need less proof to demonstrate it’s truth. If I claim it cures non-small cell lung cancer, then I need even less proof. The less proof that is required, the more likely it is to be true.
4. To be sure my claim to cure non-small cell lung cancer, you could ask: how does it work? Obviously, magic is the wrong answer. If that is my answer, then it is more likely that I do not know if my cure even works.
5. If my answer to how it works is: it is a small synthetic compound that targets a signalling pathway required for cancer cell division, then it sounds like my claim is more likely to be true.
6. Then you should ask: how do I know that? Well, I tested it in my cell culture preparation, then I confirmed it with my mouse model. I published this evidence in my scientific paper. Now we’re getting somewhere close to me proving my claim.
7. But does it cure non-small cell lung cancer in humans? I published the results from my clinical trial in my other paper. Furthermore, another group studying cancer was interested, and they confirmed that the people given my drug had better outcomes.
To bring this home: the claim that there is a god that created the universe, and that this explains all of existence, is one of the most extraordinary claims that could possibly be made. Especially when you try to tell me that he has the cure for death (e.g. John 3:16).
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
* That comment regarding old laws, being an example itself.
I haven’t read the pdf it cited. Given its subject, I wouldn’t want to risk blindly endorsing whatever else is inside.
I would not have been able to derive this definition from my understanding of teratology. Teratology refers to pathological alterations to species typical development, usually caused by exposure to chemical compounds not normally present during development. I’m not sure that you are describing a model for typical idea development being altered by external factors. Your example from RD124 comments doesn’t help me. Perhaps you need a better term? It is interesting how ideas propagate and interact with other ideas, which leads to propagation of absurd concepts. Is this what you mean?
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Essentially. But specifically propagation of concepts that were accepted more widely and studied more exhaustively (blind alleys) than would seem appropriate, at least from outside or in hindsight. To find out how it came to seem appropriate to those involved.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
To be clear, not a model. Nothing systematic. Calling it an X-ology was inappropriate. I’m sorry.
Let me know if these are examples: astrology (interesting because we still have horoscopes in newspapers), humours theory of disease, phrenology, alchemy. But it seems like these ideas have died out. I know I’m going to step on someone’s toes for saying this: but what about Doctor of Osteopathic medicine? Or chiropractics?
After rereading your long post, I found a few more points for discussion.
Science. Scientists are not independent, unbiased, etc. However, the results of the experiments are. You can make up your own opinions, but not your own facts. Have a hypothesis? Test it.
There are certainly limits to what hypotheses can be tested based on limitations of available methods.
There is room for debate regarding the interpretation of data, and there is much controversy especially around the most recent findings.
The fact that the data are published in journal are not the reason to believe (this is argument from authority). The fact that the data published supports ideas that can be confirmed by other people’s independently collected data is the reason to believe.
This is what I’m waiting for. The bias of the person with the evidence is not important (ad hominem); the evidence is important.
Yes, please do. I’m busy working on other problems.
The reason I am interested in this debate, including the christian narrative, is because I am interested in dispelling the free-will model of behavior.
This may be a relevant example of what the Sky Captain was talking about when mentioning the teratology of ideas concept. The free-will model of behavior has major implications, not only for christianity, but also for the criminal justice system. There is some leeway for the “insanity” defense, but the underlying assumption is that we are in control of our behavior, and therefore retribution against us is justified. I do not know how to modify the system to account for more modern models of behavior, but this behavior model explains much of our laws.
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Yes, exactly. Pseudoscience, woo, quackery, superstition, pre-scientific theories, etc.
Comic: XKCD – Alternative Literature
Article: Wikipedia – Homeopathy: 19th century rise to popularity and early criticism
CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says
Podcast: Reasonable Doubts – 030 Free Willy vs Determinator 2: Judgement Day (direct link)
The hosts broadly discuss how determinism causes a shift from retribution to correction (00:00 – 32:37).
You may already be familiar. No need for the interview at any rate.
Mike M. says
Just FYI, I’ve always tried not to overstay my welcome whenever posting here. I like Reasonable Doubts and I don’t want them to start thinking of me as the religious guy hijacking or trying to proselytize on their blog. So I will respond to one or two more comments and then be on my way. If you do want to continue the conversation, you’re welcome to stop by my blog or I could come to your blog if you have one or there are always public forums.
Regarding your post, I was right along side you up to the very last paragraph. But then that last statement very well exemplified what I consider possibly THE one major flaw in the modern atheist’s thinking: a misunderstanding of how the burden of proof applies to the question of god.
But let me respond to the second sentence first.
Having a cure for death is really not that big a deal. Humans will have one soon enough. Maybe not this century but soon enough. There will also be a cure for the dead. In other words not just a cure that prevents people from dying but one that can bring them back once they do. It would work kind of like WordPress. If you have ever run a WordPress blog you might have heard of a plugin called WordPress to Dropbox. It basically makes a complete duplicate of your website every few days and stores it in Dropbox. If your site gets hacked you can restore an exact copy and be up and running in no time. If you think this is outrageous you’re just not thinking far enough into the future. The only thing that would prevent this from happening is if we actually DID have an immaterial soul.
But now to the more important statement,
You are right. This IS one of the most extraordinary claims that could possibly be made. Right along side another most extraordinary claim, mainly that there is NO god that created the universe and its existence can be explained entirely by naturalistic processes. You see, this universe is kind of like a wind-up toy. It started with an initial burst of potential energy that has been and is currently being used to do work but which will eventually run out bringing our universe into a state of Heat Death. And the question of course is, how can we account for this initial jump-start while remaining consistent with the laws of physics?
You see, god is not an isolated concept that theists made up so that now the burden of proof is on them to show that such a being exists. It is a concept that arises out of necessity as an explanation to the question of where we came from. It is one of two main explanations we have such that either we were made, or we got here naturally (by “we” I mean the universe as a whole.) There is an inverse relationship between the two such that the more likely the one, the less likely the other. And, the burden of proof lies equally on both concepts. Except that while Naturalism could potentially be proven or dis-proven eventually, proving god is a bit harder. Possibly, the only way we will ever demonstrate god, unless he actually reveals himself, is by exhausting every hypothesis we can think of that would explain Naturalism.
At this point in time however, I personally don’t believe atheism could be a rational position. Agnosticism is the only logical stance given the current state of scientific advancement; at least if you accept no sources of authority other than logic and science.
Mike M. says
For the Free Will question, what do you consider some of your best arguments against free will. I have already listened to all 4 episodes by RD on determinism (though it was about a year ago) so at least we can have that as a starting platform.
Mike M. #121
Thank you for asking that question. This allows me to bring up a few points. I will preface with a disclaimer: I am not a scholar of philosophy. The determinism and free-will debates have an extensive history that I am not interested in. I have an opinion on the issue that I’m willing to defend, but I will not search the literature to find a philosopher who argued my points, and the title of the published book. That’s something that Chris and Randal did, but I don’t play that game. Now my points.
First, the testability of claims. Free will suffers from the same problem that determinism has. The only test that I can think to positively prove either of these positions is to rewind time and see if we would always make the same decisions given exactly the same circumstances. If you can find some other way to test the free will model, I would certainly consider it.
Second, false dilemma. Determinism (however defined) are not the only alternatives to free will. In the false dilemma, you will attempt to disprove the contradictory position to affirm the only other alternative. If you could can reject determinism as an explanation, then therefore, free will. Determinism is not the only alternative as I will explain.
Third, conflation of different types of ideas. Determinism applies to the entire universe. The alternative I prefer is that the universe is stochastic. This implies that probability theory and statistics allow us to make predictions with some uncertainty. Free will only applies to animal behavior (A.I. may be an exception).
Fourth, animal behavior. The free will model lacks a plausible mechanism, and I would consider a type of deus ex machina. Therefore, I think a good question to ask me would be: if not free will, what is my alternative explanation?
1. Animal behavior is the structured pattern of muscle activity that results in interactions with the environment. Skeletal muscles are the key players here, including vocal chords.
2. How do they work? In general, muscles contract following stimulation from motorneurons. These are cells that connect the muscles to the central nervous system (CNS).
3. How are the motorneurons coordinated to produce behaviors? They are coordinated by intricate patterns of outputs generated by the brain, brainstem, cerebellum, and spinal cord.
4. How are these outputs produced? The CNS has patterned interconnected neurons that take in input, and modify the input via extremely complex networks. They change macro-states (e.g. sleep/wake), they change as a function of feedback from the environment (learning/memory), they do lots of things. I won’t turn this one blog comment into a neuroscience textbook.
5. ALL behaviors are implemented via a CNS mechanism, and these mechanisms are nondeterministic, stochastic constraints on behaviors.
There simply is no need for free will. It’s not even testable, so why bother discussing it? At most, free will can be thought of as the uncertainty in which of several behaviors we could engage in at each decision point. The soul has been posited as a mechanism for free will, but then the problem is how does the soul interact with the nervous system to modify outputs?
Mike M. #120
I don’t think you overstayed your welcome anymore than I have. We are still on topic, and anyone else who may still be reading is free to jump in. I will check out your blog, if you like having a discussion with me.
I needed to say something controversial or else there’s nothing to debate:) I was intentionally provocative. I’ll be more careful next time.
WHAT! Having a cure for death is a huge deal, especially if it is one thing that cures all causes of death. I know medical science is advancing, but still. The philosophical discussion about the possibility of uploading consciousness into a computer is a whole new debate topic.
I’m not sure about this. I am interested in the free will discussion because it’s relevant to the work that I do, and I have knowledge of neuroscience that I like to discuss. The free will debate gives me an excuse to present my ideas. I think it’s only relevant to the existence of god because of the narratives of the Abrahamic religions. I like evolution too because biology is a part of my education background. I am not a physicist or cosmologist, so I am perfectly comfortable not knowing how the universe came to exist.
Naturalism would not be one thing to disprove. It would be the set of all models of the universe that don’t require a god to work. Regarding the proof of god, the problem is actually much worse than this. If an unknown entity revealed itself as god, why would we believe it? It would have to do so in a way that is incontrovertible.
You are right. Agnosticism is the only logically rational stance for every claim that can not be proven to be true or not. Including other gods, and an infinite number of other claims. Why would the christian narrative get the privilege of not needing to be proven true, but all those other claims require agnosticism? Of course I won’t accept the validity of any book as an authority based on revealed knowledge, or whatever. I would base my belief for this strong claim on how the neuroscience theories of behavior explains how books are written (hint: no supernatural intervention is possible or necessary for the explanation).
Mike M. says
I think I can agree with pretty much everything you’ve said.
First, the free will defense is a philosophical defense. i.e., it starts with the problem of whether a powerful/loving god would allow suffering and concludes that, postulating free will, it IS plausible to assume that such a god would allow suffering under certain circumstances. It takes free will for granted and does not attempt to prove it.
Next, let me just address a few points regarding the RD series on free will. Like I said, it’s been a while so I don’t remember everything they said, except that it took my head on a roller-coaster ride for several weeks, though some aspects of those shows did seem a bit silly to me.
I agree that determinism or free-will is a false dichotomy. One major alternative to them both is probabilism. In fact, going by the latest scientific understanding, if there is one aspect we can just about rule out, it is not free will but determinism. Or, to say it more accurately, the inanimate world at least is probably to a large degree deterministic with just enough randomness mixed in so that true, complete determinism is very likely not the case. If you had to do it over, the universe would most likely turn out differently.
I agree that we don’t have a mechanism for free will (we don’t have a mechanism for quantum randomness for that matter) nor have I yet been able to think of a test to prove or disprove free will.
I wasn’t personally very impressed with the studies that were cited by RD as far as their value in proving or disproving anything on the subject. Basically, some part of the brain was stimulated and the person reacted accordingly; maybe raised their right arm instead of the left. To me this disproves free will about as much as me, grabbing your right arm and raising it by force disproves free will.
But more than that, the person whose brain was stimulated felt the need to then provide an explanation for why they actually INTENDED to do the stimulated action. But, while that was an interesting find, it cannot be applied to situations where a person sits down and thinks through a decision, evaluates possible outcomes, confers with friends etc. and then goes with the best option available. I consider it a more likely explanation that the brain sees the need to create a back-story for the purpose of maintaining regularity rather than that all our decisions are determined and we just THINK we’re choosing freely.
Also, I don’t think it is a good idea to judge whether we have free will based on less than ideal situations: brain damage, Alzheimers, substance abuse etc. Just because free-will can be impaired or lost does not mean it doesn’t exist at all.
So this is my reasoning through the process:
First, I already mentioned that as far as inanimate matter is concerned there are chains of cause and effect interrupted by random events. Imagine long lines of dominoes that every now and then come to a fork and the chain reaction randomly goes right or left after that fork.
This process applies to early life as well until first the ability to sense the environment and later memory develop. Once this happens, you no longer have only determined/random causes.
For example, say an organism goes in search of food. First, it might choose to go right instead of left because it is inclined to go that way for deterministic reasons. But then, it might occasionally randomly choose to go left. But, at some point, if it develops an ability to sense the environment, it will choose to go left not for determined/random reasons but because it senses food there. Once memory develops, it will choose left even if the benefit is not immediately apparent.
Add to that the ability to reason as well as to imagine (reason in spite of incomplete information) and we’re already a long way from the determined/random universe we started with. I understand that there might still be several steps from here to Free Will, but I think we’re closer to that than to either determinism or probabilism.
So coming back to the philosophy, I think it is simply a matter of free will being an acceptable postulate since, as of now, free will can not be ruled out.
Now coming back to your interest in dispelling the free-will model of behavior, I don’t think you need to disprove free will for that to work. What you really need is results. If you can set up a test where, using a large enough sample size, you can show a consistent benefit to working under one premise versus another, then you have succeeded regardless of whether free will does or does not exist. After all, there is no reason why, if free will is true, working under the assumption it is not could still produce better results or, if it is not true, assuming it is might produce better results, at least as far as behavior modification goes.
But here is another question for you to think through. The assumption of free will is very deeply ingrained in our psyche. Holding people responsible for their actions seems like an universal human reaction. Even people who are convinced free will does not exist still instinctively assign blame if a human harms their child as opposed to an animal. My question for you then is, why would evolution select so heavily for a mindset that assumes free will as opposed to one that doesn’t? And, consequently, is it safe to mess with nature by trying to now reeducate ourselves on the subject?
Mike M. says
Let me address one more point here. Someone will say that I don’t understand determinism because, like in the example I used of the organism going left because it sensed there was food there, the food was determined to be there so the organism was determined as well in a round about way.
However, in my opinion, this type of determinism is very different from the original sense of the word as applied to inanimate matter. So it does not serve the conversation well to use the same terminology for both. The more mental attributes an organism has, the more unlike inanimate matter it behaves when it comes to the reasons why it does one thing over another. And, as humans have progressed and learned to incorporate things like the scientific method into our decision making process, the more we can say that we made a choice because it was the RIGHT choice rather than that it was determined.
I agree with this. Our behavior appears much closer to free will than determinism. So much so that we almost never question it. As you said, it’s “very deeply ingrained in our psyche.” It may even be rational to believe it, especially when assigning blame. But I also believe it is wrong in ways that create unintentional harm.
I think you are still trying to be agnostic regarding free will. The brain takes in input from friends, from past experiences, from evaluation of potential outcomes, all sorts of things, and then outputs the results to the rest of the body. These are constraints on behavior, that violate at least the most strict definition of libertarian free will. Some of the impact of less than ideal situations can be explained by changes to these decision making processes. It’s not free will that is impaired, what has been impaired is the brains ability to reach the same decisions that it would have made had it not been compromised.
This may be our primary point of disagreement. Being unable to be ruled out is not a sufficient reason to accept a postulate, especially when your conclusions rely on this premise. I personally rule it out for the reasons we agree on: 1. no plausible mechanism, 2. biological constraints on behavior, 3. no positive evidence to even suggest its really a thing.
This is my take home message. What I have is about 100 years of 100,000s of people (maybe millions), working more than 40 hours/week, at a cost of billions of dollars to produce our current understanding how brains work.
I’m several comments behind at this point, and I’m not sure if it’s personally worth it for me to play catch-up, but one statement in particular is standing way out from 108.
I think I see your point to an extent, but it strikes me as completely bizarre that discussing actual beliefs is somehow beside the point in a debate between a Christian apologist and an atheist, especially when both of them at the outset agree to a definition of those beliefs.
Miserlyold man #127
Sorry I was long winded. I got out of control. You probably did not miss anything that you did not already know.
Mike M. says
Having a debate about whether belief in god is irrational would be very useful but then defining that god as omni- ends up just being a debate about whether my arbitrary definition of omni is better than your arbitrary definition, especially when neither side clearly articulates that definition.
Yes, most debates between theists and atheists are about beliefs but some debates are more worth having than others.
Another example is an argument Justin Schieber likes to use about how a maximally perfect being would never have created our universe. But the universe exists so, if Justin is right, god could only be 99.99% perfect or less. Now what?
This isn’t really Justin’s fault. It’s theologians and philosophers that love to come up with absurd notions of God that just beg to be picked on.
But in the end, the summary of this type of arguments is,
If you define GOD in such a way that he cannot exist, then,
He cannot exist.
Mike M. says
What I meant by results is to actually put into practice your theory about free will or lack thereof. Now I don’t know if this subject is important to you because you are actually trying to come up with better correctional institutions for example, but if you are, nothing speaks as loudly as results.
So, if you are right about the lack of free will, how would you go about working with the criminal element differently? Develop some strategies and then do a test run. If you can show a significant improvement in the rate of rehabilitation then you have made your point.
As far as I am concerned, if I were going to donate money to a cause and I had to choose between a guy like the one in the video who does not believe in free will but gets great results and a guy who believes in free will but doesn’t get very good results, I will always go with the results. The guy really seems to be making a difference.
As far as ruling out free will, this might be justifiable while doing scientific research from a procedural point of view, i.e. Occam’s Razor. But I think it is a stretch of logic to apply that to the current debate.
In other words to say,
1) I am ignoring the possibility of free will because of lack of mechanism etc.
2) free will is necessary to explain why a powerful/loving god would allow suffering
3) Therefore, belief in a powerful/loving god is irrational.
The reason I think this is a stretch is that ruling out possibilities for procedural reasons, i.e. no way to test, etc. is not the same as ruling them out because the evidence. From an evidence standpoint, as of yet we have no way to tell if free will exists or not.
Mike M. says
In any case, I think I have taken up enough space on this blog so it’s time for me to say goodby. Thanks to everyone for great conversation. If any other comments are addressed to me after this, I will respond on my blog (found by clicking on my name.) If anyone wants to continue talking but prefers a neutral location we can meet on the Craigslist religion forum.
Lausten North says
You always suggest there is a discussion that needs to come before the debate. I would put these items before your 3 point ‘in other words’ above
Answering the question of something’s existence requires evidence.
Evidence for a soul or spirit or free will exists only within personal experience.
Personal experiences can be found to agree among some people, they also often disagree.
There is consistent evidence and natural explanations for personal experiences of what people report as a sense of free will, enough for a decent hypothesis.
No such evidence exists FOR free will.
I look forward to a blog about this from you
ForgotMyOrange . says
I actually thought the debate never started – and came here to clarify.
I was just waiting for the definition clarifications to …. end. And before that happened, amongst what seemed like Randal’s endless refusal to accept anything his opponent said, it ended.
I love how Randal gives us a real-life example of someone’s acceptance of death at the end… but refused to tackle the similar, yet somewhat more problematic, example that Chris asked him to answer (re the child in Michigan). Nice dodging work there. Seemed like that’s all Randal does.
I give credit to Chris for not matching the level of stinging nastiness that Randal dished up. It was really obnoxious towards the end. Hard to believe that Randal doesn’t realize how obnoxious he sounds. Or is he deliberately engineering “obnoxious” as part of his debating tactic… mind boggling.
I particularly appreciated when Chris said “what makes me angry”… but never sounded angry or let his emotions take control. Chris was pleasant & respectful… That was more important to me, by the end of it.
The least Randal could have done, to my mind, was pull back on that point the made Chris angry – where he misquotes Mackie. To take someone’s near-final words before death, quote them out of context and then after they die, pretend that they were admitting they were wrong all their life. This is made-up death-bed confession nonsense. Despicable.
JonP, I was unclear. I read all of the comments, but I was so behind on things I wanted to address that I didn’t want to bring up another ten arguments.
However, I find I just keep jumping in. So, Mike @129 (supposing you’re still checking) given that both sides have agreed at the outset to an omni-omni 100% perfect god, 99.99% perfect means that that god doesn’t exist. So, since both parties agreed in the very beginning about what they were arguing about, the Not Perfect side will have won that debate. Now, yeah, this doesn’t address any god anywhere ever under any circumstances, but that wasn’t the purview of the debate. It also happens to be a thing that people actually believe. So. I guess thank you for admitting that that debate was lost.
Please, please stop taking the affirmative position in these debates. Randal was well within his rights to put the burden of proof on Chris. That’s what taking the affirmative position entails. And to make matters worse, it’s affirming something that no one involved seemed prepared to make a real case for.
It was, as usual for your podcasts, fantastically entertaining, but I really hate having to watch my side wall themselves in like this.
Gem Newman says
Agreed. Chris Hallquist assumed the burden of proof when he took the affirmative position. However, I did find it galling that Randall Rauser used his opening statement as a rebuttal, which seems contrary to the specified format of the debate.
I agree with many of the previous commenters who take issue with Rauser’s smugness. While his demonstrated lack of intellectual humility and the palpable disrespect he showed to Hallquist do not in and of themselves show that he is wrong, they do (in my opinion) provide ample reason not to engage with him further.
classical music says
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