Why Atheists Lose Debates

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 16, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists,Debates,William Lane Craig

Atheists often lose public debates with theists, especially when going up against heavyweights like William Lane Craig.

I don’t know of an atheist losing a debate to someone who denies evolution. That’s safe ground because the atheist can stick to science rather than the much murkier domains of philosophy.

But atheists still often, though perhaps not usually, lose debates on philosophical matters.

Debates are not a great method for truth-seeking, and they’re only one tiny part of the intellectual struggle among worldviews, but they tend to draw a crowd. So let me speculate on why atheists lose more often than they should.

First, atheists may lose for lack of time. In a debate, the clock is everything, and besides being poorly trained for debate, atheists often lose because their explanation for morality or consciousness or cosmogenesis or fine-tuning or whatever takes a heck of a lot longer to explain than “God did it.” Thus, the theist has a massive advantage, if he can get away with making the crowd think that “God did it” is an explanation – that it rises to the level of an hypothesis.

Second, and I think more importantly, atheists often lose because they present a weaker case. Maybe all the theist’s arguments are terrible, but to win the debate, the atheist has to show why his arguments are terrible, and (in some way) must give some good arguments for his own position. The atheist often does poorly in both these respects.

Atheists often prove themselves to be woefully incompetent in philosophy of religion, epistemology, naturalistic philosophy, and all topics of philosophy relevant to the debate. When somebody like Craig offers a boilerplate philosophical argument for theism, the atheist often has one or two responses to give. But then Craig gives the standard theistic answers, and the atheist doesn’t know what to do after that. Craig has memorized the first 6 moves of any possible chess game with atheists, and the atheist only knows one or two.

The atheist loses the chess match because he prepared for the debate by reading Wikipedia rather than Plantinga, Rowe, Alston, Oppy, and so on. A theist like Craig, on the other hand, has read all these thinkers many times over.

Example 1: The Moral Argument

The moral argument for theism is really simple. It says that without God as a foundation for moral values, there is no objective standard for morality. Without a transcendent source, morality can only be relative or subjective, and there is not even a reason to choose utilitarianism rather than Kantianism, or contractarianism rather than virtue ethics. But most people think objective moral values exist, so therefore God must exist.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen the atheist confronted with this argument and refuse to answer. Usually they do not even seem to understand the argument. They protest “But many atheists are good people!” or “But Biblical morality is no good! Have you read the Bible?”

To this, Craig can only shake his head and say, “No, you’ve completely missed the point…” And he’s right. Atheists often don’t know even the first chess move in response to the moral argument.

Example 2: The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is a handy weapon, because even theists know it’s a strong argument, and because it appeals to people’s emotions. Nobody feels it is “good” that God allows children to be raped by their parents or for innocent people to be drowned by pointless tsunamis. They will tell you they think God is good an all-powerful, but they certainly feel the tension here.

So the atheist has a good start when presenting the problem of evil. Then Craig or another philosophically trained theist will respond with Plantinga’s free will defense, or perhaps Wykstra’s skeptical theism. So far, so good: this is all Philosophy of Religion 101 stuff.

At that point, the atheist often appears to misunderstand the defense being offered, or else he responds with lame rebuttals that don’t go anywhere, and aren’t made in the philosophical literature anywhere because they are lame rebuttals.

Seriously, how hard would it be to read a few articles responding to the free will defense or to skeptical theism? It’s not that hard. These articles are out there, if you’re paying attention. But most atheists who enter debate don’t think they need to read any philosophy of religion before entering the ring with a professional theistic philosopher. So the theist runs circles around them because he has memorized the first 6 moves on all these arguments, and the atheist at most knows only one or two moves.

I repeat:

Maybe the moral argument is a bad argument for theism. Maybe the problem of evil is a good argument for atheism. But the atheist still loses when he fails to show why the moral argument is a bad argument, and why the problem of evil is a good argument. That is what I mean when I say that atheists often lose debates and often offer the weaker case.

So, atheist debaters: Stop embarrassing us. Do a little reading before you debate. At least read Rowe’s Intro to Philosophy of Religion. Read some of your opponent’s work, too. Contact me or some atheist philosophers and ask us to point you to some relevant literature, if you don’t have time to study the whole field.

Every good chess player has the first few moves memorized. This is not rocket science.

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{ 257 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk August 16, 2010 at 4:46 am

But most people think objective moral values exist,…

Well there’s your problem right there. People who believe in objective moral values, including you, ought to be required to demonstrate their existence.

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The Barefoot Bum August 16, 2010 at 4:53 am

Examples of actual debates would be enormously helpful.

PZ Myers often observes that even when atheists actually win debates, theists will claim that they themselves have won. Unless there’s some formal judging, there’s no way to objectively determine a winner.

I don’t watch many debates, but it seems reasonably clear that debates are theater, not rational, critical examination. It’s not a matter of understanding or not understanding the underlying philosophy, it’s about writing and improvising good, snappy dialog, especially dialog for which one’s opponent does not have a well-prepared response.

If there are really examples of debates that atheists have lost, I would imagine their failure is in trying to actually prove their position (which cannot be done in the debate format) rather than presenting their position clearly and interestingly.

I could write some snappy dialog for each of the general categories you mention in my sleep.

The Moral Argument: My opponent says that without God, people have no reason to behave well. I think the policeman ’round the corner might have something to say about that! Indeed, if God were such a great foundation for morality, why have police, courts and prisons at all? If my opponent actually believed what he is saying, then he would call for the immediate removal of all police, laws, courts, prisons, fines and let God take care of everything. Let me know how that works out for you.

My opponent claims that without God, we have no reason to believe in an “objective” morality. But nobody says that without God we have no reason to believe in an objective reality!

But honestly, I have to give this point to my opponent: Without God, there is no objective reason we ought to permit slavery. Without God, there is no objective reason to subjugate women, there is not objective reason to deny civil rights to homosexuals, there is no objective reason to permit priests to escape civil justice for child molestation. There is no objective reason we ought not to “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

If my opponent wishes to deny that concern for the subjective suffering and misery of others is a good reason to refrain from doing certain things, he’s certainly free to do so. I don’t, however, see this as the strongest possible argument for his beliefs.

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Ryan August 16, 2010 at 4:54 am

That’s funny that you say you’ve never heard an atheist lose a debate on evolution. I’ve seen lots lose to Kent Hovind. Not because Hovind is right, but simply for the same reasons you cited: the people who debate Hovind aren’t as prepared as he is for the oppononent’s response, and pointing out Hovind’s shitty data and fallacious reasoning take more a lot longer than Hovind’s statement of the argument.

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James Thompson August 16, 2010 at 4:54 am

I’ve listened to Craig many times. Since I know a lot more about Cosmology than he does, he just sounds idiotic on that point. Luke, are you a debate judge? Do you score it?

I’m not convinced by his arguments so I guess the speakers refutations of his arguments don’t have to be that strong. I don’t see Craig winning so much as maybe getting some draws.

I guess the Moral argument and the problem of Evil bore me anyway. Making objective morals an axiom? Show that first.

Anyway, probably good advice for someone debating him, since he follows that same script every time, be ready to punch some quick holes in it.

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The Barefoot Bum August 16, 2010 at 4:59 am

(to continue) If my opponent is saying he objects to slavery only because he believes God objects to slavery, then does it it not follow that if he were to believe God approved of slavery, he himself would condone it without a moment’s thought? If he insists on an objective morality, than does it not follow that the suffering and misery of the slave, while it might cause him some sadness or distress, is not by itself morally relevant?

I must ask my opponent: does he honestly believe that other people’s subjective suffering and misery, as well as their happiness and well being, is completely irrelevant to our moral beliefs? And if so, how is this position different from a sociopath’s?

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shreddakj August 16, 2010 at 5:02 am

I was debating a theist one time, and they brought up Plantinga. I hadn’t heard of the guy at the time so I went and looked up some of his work, particularly his version of the ontological argument. I walked away feeling like I had lost a truckload of braincells trying to figure out why this theist thought it was a valid argument. People like Plantinga seem to insert dozens of weasel-words into their arguments to confuse people and make it seem like they’re saying something valid. The reality is that they’re just spewing forth a steaming pile of philosophical bullshit.

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rvkevin August 16, 2010 at 5:08 am

I’ve listened to Craig many times. Since I know a lot more about Cosmology than he does, he just sounds idiotic on that point. Luke, are you a debate judge? Do you score it?

I’m kind of interested in this. If an atheist fails to respond to an incorrect statement, is that a point to the theist? It seems like other people do this, but I don’t. After all, it’s not like we need to view the debate with the comprehension of a five year old.

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Steven Carr August 16, 2010 at 5:16 am

‘At that point, the atheist often appears to misunderstand the defense being offered,….’

Are you claiming professial philosophers actually understand Plantinga’s Transworld Depravity defense?

You can find professional philosophers who say Plantinga claims it is actually true that all created beings suffer from Transworld Depravity and professional philosophers who say Plantinga claims it is possibly true that all created beings suffer from Transworld Depravity, although there are angels who never commit depravity.

These Christian defense are not meant to be understood, they are only meant to exist.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 5:22 am

The biggest mistakes I see atheists make are;

* Playing theology/apologist games and mind puzzles that have no actual application or utility even for the theist that brings them up.

==> Is that the reason why the person is a Christian? If not, why mention it to me?

* Ignoring reality./Remaining abstract without application.

==> Yet more time wasting nonsense.

* Defending ground that doesn’t need defending.

==> Often these are things a thoughtful Christian also does not deny themselves, yet many Christians still mention them. Stop that nonsense.

* Not holding people accountable for things they claim when they attempt to move on to yet another argument that is not consistent with reality.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 5:27 am

Steven Carr: These Christian defense are not meant to be understood, they are only meant to exist.

Nice!

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Jacopo August 16, 2010 at 5:31 am

I agree with this post. As alluded to, one major difficultly is that we are wired to see ‘explanation in terms of agenthood’ to be a good answer to difficult questions.

The reality of much more difficult, branching and often ultimately indeterminate answers to questions about the existence of the universe, morality, the nature of the mind etc. are possibly less rhetorically compelling because we’re not wired to ‘naturally’ see things that way.

I think there might be a natural human compulsion to prefer any answer to a question. Christians, with a whole book that contains the essentials life, the universe and everything, are able to offer more answers. Whereas the atheist is likely to (rightly) offer opinions, and questions. It’s less rhetorically effective, though.

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EvanT August 16, 2010 at 5:40 am

I’d imagine it’d be apparent by now that debates are basically talk shows at best and parallel monologues at worst. It’s an opportunity for everyone to put forward some arguments and demonstrate his ability to put on a good show for the audience. And that’s about it. (How many times does Craig need to spank an atheist’s ass for that to sink in? Yeesh!)

Truth doesn’t depend on debate skills. Only public opinion does. Luke is quite right in disapproving of unprepared atheists at debates. Truth isn’t at stake there, but public image actually is and the atheist movement, being an outsider, definitely needs a boost in the area.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 6:02 am

This reminds me one time where I had to talk my boss out of a bad idea. To do it, I spent 15 minutes laying out exactly what my boss was proposing and why he was proposing it, and giving every good reason for why it is a good idea and not a bad one. In the end, he was absolutely confident that we were on the same page.

Then I asked him a single question of my own. 30 seconds of silence later, we were looking at other options. Why? He was a good boss and knew that he had to deal with things as they actually were.

Still, it took those 15 minutes.

In debates or even online discussions the people involved are almost always interested in other things and not the reality of the issue they are discussing.

What is discouraging to me is that even if I know what the theist (or Christian theist) is saying, and I let them know, rarely do I get that 30 seconds of silence followed by an acknowledgment.

Instead, they change the subject while ignoring the implications.

It is easier to make up yet another layer to spend yet more time on than to deal with those implications. I consider this impulse to make up yet more layers while ignoring what was just discussed to be just another variation of a Gish Gallop.

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Meatros August 16, 2010 at 6:16 am

I have to agree with Luke, for the most part – with regards to Craig. Most of the debates with Craig usually have Craig appearing to be in the better position for precisely the reasons Luke gives. At best, Craig has won quite a bit of his debates. At worst, he’s held his own. Only a few times can I remember Craig losing (slightly). One with Tabash (IIRC) and I think that Craig was weaker in his exchanges with Quentin Smith (both cases, he didn’t get ‘slaughtered’).

The same is true for *a few* other debates (not ‘debators’) and this is where I disagree with Luke. I think that, with regard to most other debates, it’s fairly even between atheists and theists. There are some good debators (atheists, for example Kruger, IIRC) and some bad ones (Sansone – sp?).

With regard to Hovind, I would agree that he often does well because of ‘the gish gallop’ strategy, or at least he did. IMO he was getting slaughtered towards the end. I’m thinking of Massimo Pigluicci, XtrueX (iirc), and another atheist who’s name slips my mind (he’s older, he debated Hovind on Noah’s ark, and he regularly blasts JP Holding).

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jscottkill August 16, 2010 at 6:34 am

Wait, is Ayala an atheist?

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Bill Maher August 16, 2010 at 6:43 am

iscott,

no, he is still a Christian :)

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 6:54 am

Would you mind laying out the “first chess move” of the objective morality argument (or linking, whatever is easier)? It sounds like you have an easy 1-2-3 answer to it.

I think I sit with The Barefoot Bum on this one…. Though, I would have questioned their ability to argue for objective morality, as Christian morality has shifted so frequently and drastically you can’t claim it to be objective. Instead, I’d accept that there isn’t objective (universal, beyond human) morality, and instead build a framework for understanding how morality is relative to the people who create, develop and use it. Is that a misunderstanding of terms, or just generally out to lunch?

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 7:08 am

Barefoot Bum,

If my opponent is saying he objects to slavery only because he believes God objects to slavery, then does it it not follow that if he were to believe God approved of slavery, he himself would condone it without a moment’s thought?

Your opponent would say that this is the Euthyphro dilemma; is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good? If the former, God could command slavery to be good and you would have to accept it; if the latter, then morality does not depend on God.

Your opponent would answer it thus:

G = God
M = objective morality

Either G > M or G < M. But clearly this presents a false dilemma, because there is a third option: G = M.

I.e., God doesn't command the Absolute Good. God is the Absolute Good.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 7:32 am

Martin, asserting something doesn’t make it so. Doing it for both variables is incoherent.

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cd August 16, 2010 at 7:32 am

I agree that intellectual underpreparation is a serious problem. But I think as large of a problem is that Craig and the other ‘professionals’ recognize that debates are essentially religio-political acts in a cultural context that greatly biases toward them.

I mean, the longer I listen and read about these things the less sense “objective morality” and “necessary being” and the like concepts/categories make to me. I realize I had internalized skewed definitions of these things that allowed theism in through a back door from the cultural acceptance of biased definitions. The more I look at it, the more it seems to me that this is the basis for why the theist debater’s job is easier. And this is why he tends to try to stack the audience in his favor- not for the cheering after the argumentative exchange is made but to socially pressure his opponent into trying to argue on his side’s terms and definitions to the extent possible.

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Reginald Selkirk August 16, 2010 at 7:34 am

I assert that black = white and night = day.

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CharlesP August 16, 2010 at 7:41 am

Luke, if I’m going to read Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction… what am I missing by buying the 2000 edition for ~$5 vs the new one for ~$50?

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 7:45 am

@Eric:

1) God isn’t an objective source of morality. That’s a subjective source of morality. Why is God’s opinion about what is right worth more than mine? I see two general tracks: a) God is more powerful. This is obviously not going to sit well with anyone, If I have the ability to kill every person on Earth, and am immortal, does that mean that what I say is moral? Not likely to be agreed to by anyone. b) God is the Creator. So, being the owner/creator makes you the dictator of morality? So if I design an AI, and put it in a car, and do this for the purpose of having it drive me around under the speed limit, but for whatever reason (fault in design, free will, really bad programmer, specifically programed it to not want to do what I want it to) it likes speeding around, what is the basis of the claim that it is objectively good for it to not speed? Is my opinion really worth more because I created the AI?

In both those defenses, besides not being how we think morality gets it’s force, they are both clearly subjective sources, just subjective universally applicable if God exists.

2) There is no objective morality. People think that there is an objective morality. People also think their kids are the smartest. People also think different things are objectively moral. Demonstrate objective morality first. You feel that X is bad. Someone else feels that X is good. What can you point to as a reason that X is bad that he can’t point to as well?

Killing is wrong? Why? Because you feel it is? But I feel it isn’t! How do you get past that step?

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 8:00 am

Cd, well said.

* * *

Reginald Selkirk: I assert that black = white and night = day.

:-}

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Meatros August 16, 2010 at 8:04 am

Kaelik – your points are excellent. Especially point one, which I thoroughly agree with.

I have never heard a debate that takes this tactic though. I think it’s a shame as it would be particularly effective.

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mirabilis August 16, 2010 at 8:12 am

I haven’t heard any athiest come up with a good argument about objective moral values. Instead of shirking it or running away or saying its boring etc… answer the question. Most people have I talked with either do not understand what we mean about objective morals or just get really mad and descend into ad hominem arguments. Many people have not got a clue about philosophy.. many non believers in God get schooled in science and think thats going to wipe the theist out…. well not by a long shot.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 8:15 am

I think that Barefoot Bum (and Reginald) are correct. Although some engagement with the theistic positions is necessary, that’s not enough — there should also be some crowd-pleasing one-liners that a quickly expose the problems with the theistic positions. This shouldn’t be so hard when the theistic positions (and Craig’s in particular, I gather) are so predictable.

For example:
Theist: “Morality is objective (because it just seems like it is!), therefore God must exist.”

Atheist response 1. “And you think that morality is objective because…?”

Atheist response 2. “In the Bible, slavery is condoned, God demands that the Israelites commit genocide, and that adultery is punishable by death. If morality is truly objective under God, why does he change it so much?”
Atheist response 3. “How do we know that God’s nature is good and not evil, or that God isn’t just like us — kind of good, and kind of evil?”

I think there should be a repository of these options somewhere — a handy reference for those about to debate. I’m not saying that the atheist should skip the part where she understands the arguments, but she should take the time to arm herself with the crowd-pleasing comments that most easily pry open the can of worms that is most of these arguments.

On that note, if anyone wouldn’t mind lobbing better one-line retorts to the standard Craig arguments (I think Reginald has shown he has a fairly extensive library of these sort of quips) than I’ve offered I’d love to see them.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

Meatros, honestly, I think this sort of thing can occur in discussion, but not formal debate. In formal debate, the theist just drops the argument from morality, and takes a new track, cosmological or ontological, or just adopts the style of “Lie to victory” where they spew enough lies fast enough that you can’t contradict them all. And in discussion, well, it becomes more about morality than God pretty quick.

Speaking of which, luke really pisses me off now that I’ve been around long enough to get the sense of this place. He paints such an air of philosophical rigor, but apparently is just all to busy to ever even pretend to present any arguments for desirism. Even the giant FAQ does nothing to actually argue for it, only present it’s tenets.

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Hendy August 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

Interesting response/rebuttal at The Faith Heuristic. Thoughts?

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Meatros August 16, 2010 at 8:23 am

mirabilis – I’m not convinced that ‘objective’ morality makes sense. If it does, it would seem to me to be an intrinsic part of the universe. I fail to see how it could be, in any way, the creation/expression/outpouring of an immaterial entity.

If it exists, then it is a necessary feature of the universe, not the contingent property of a God (which would make it subjective, IMO).

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Meatros August 16, 2010 at 8:25 am

Kaelik – Yes, it is easier to get across in discussion (as opposed to debate). In debate, I think the theist has the stronger rhetorical position of just scoffing at the person who brings up relative morality.

Actually demonstrating objective morality seems to never come up, which *I* think is a failing on the atheist’s part.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 8:26 am

@mirabilis

I have yet to hear any theist come up with a good argument for why objective moral values exist.

I have heard some atheists come up with a good argument about objective moral values. It goes like this:

1) You shouldn’t believe things exist without logically sound arguments or conclusive proof that they exist.
2) No one has yet presented sound logical arguments or conclusive proof to you that objective moral values exist.

MP: You should not believe objective moral values exist.

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nonchai August 16, 2010 at 8:33 am

I think a better and more fruitful method is to have recorded “symposia” over a couple of days, on a very limited and well defined range of topics. So for example a three day event where leading theist and atheist philosophers plus a few scientists discuss the Kalam argument. But – unlike a debeate, we can assign – say a three hour session to just a single premise or section of the Kalaam argument. There would be an initial talk given by a proponent, followed by a few others. BUt the majority of time would be given over to a question and answer session – but STRICTLY limited just to the topic.

One of the reason atheists and many leading scientists have fared so poorly is that they are not given the chance to discuss any topic or opponents argument in any thorough manner.

This is why 1-2 hour debates – particularly those dealing with science and evolution should be avoided. Better to have several days to discuss these issues.

For example – a three day event just to give scientists a chance to rebut YEC theists SOLELY on their arguments for a young earth would be very revealing. I think a video f such an event would maybe not convince hardened belivers but would sure make those believers “one the fence” a lot more sceptical about creationism.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 8:35 am

Objective morality is in the eye of the beholder. Is it moral to have an animal to starve to death? What if it will survive eating other animals? What about if the animal just ate part of a human leg? What about if 3 animals ate a sickly human whole and survived? What would the animals say in each case?

If you don’t like those examples, then I can think of dozens of others as have other people.

Reality is messy.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 8:41 am

@Hermes

I am so confused. 1) Wouldn’t Objective Morality that is in the eye of the beholder be just subjective morality?

2) Are any of those examples supposed to be interpreted as morally wrong by anyone? Most theists don’t believe animals are capable of being moral or immoral, and I sure as fuck don’t care about either of those.

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nonchai August 16, 2010 at 8:42 am

@Hendy:

On the subject of theist -blogs. I’ve been thinking recently that i need to apply a little “anti-confirmation bias” to myself, and maybe spend some time for a change reading a few books/blogs putting forth the best theist arguments “from the horses mouth” so to speak.

given limited time – which xtian/theist blogs would people here suggest i focus on. Luke – is there any particular xtian blog that in your view puts forth well reasoned arguments without too many ( or any ) irritating apologetic tricks ?.

I reckon i only have time in fact for one such blog. Given that these days i only tune into one atheist blog ( this one ) and have stopped lurking at D.C.

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Márcio August 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

“Atheists are not good debaters.”
“Atheists don’t read the right books.”
“In debates, atheists don’t show why these arguments are bad, poor and fallacious.”

I always hear these excuses. I’m not sure, but i think that these arguments are being presented in the same way for more than 30 years.

For me, atheists are good debaters and read the right books, but because the arguments are very good, they lose the debates.

I can’t see any other reason to lose against an opponent that present arguments that are “so bad”.

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 8:49 am

Thanks, Kaelik. I appreciate your taking the time to flesh those out. I totally agree, and they were said far more articulately than I usually manage. You’ve got some practice at this, eh?

I also agree with your comment (and the general agreement) that discussions are more effective than debates for helping others understand (and furthering our own understanding of) concepts like these. I wonder if we should be trying to debate less and discuss more (and maybe spend our time considering how we can discuss better, rather than loose less debates). Not only would that allow us to more constructively approach these topics, but it would likely yield a more welcoming attitude from the moderate faithful. It’s a chance to model what rational inquiry ought to look like… lead by example, I suppose.

Likely, though, that’s a weak rehashing of things that the atheistic/non-theistic community has already addressed. Would anyone be willing to point me to some good discussions or posts along this vein so that I can get caught up?

Thanks for being patient with a newcomer :-).

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Meatros August 16, 2010 at 9:01 am

Márcio – Although I do not know what Luke’s position would be on this, I will say this: This regards formal debates, with the ‘big names’. Actually, IMO, Atheists generally do better in these sorts of debates, with the exception of certain opponents (Craig, for instance). This is, again IMO, the case with debates regarding evolution – at least in the 1980′s and early 90′s. Scientists would go up against Creationsts and get their butts handed to them (gish gallop works wonders). Do you think that this means the creationists had the stronger arguments? Compare that with the state of things today – I would say the situation is practically reversed. I can’t remember when a creationist put forth a debate performance on par with their adversary.

If you look online though, for atheist/theist debates (say Internet Infidels), I think the story is drastically different. Most written debates, IMO, favor atheists.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 9:07 am

Side note: For the first time since I moved into my home 3 years ago, a pair of proselytizers came to my door (Baptists). I explained that I wasn’t interested in their literature, and because I had a little time to kill I engaged their questions for awhile when they wouldn’t take no for an answer.

The arguments they guessed would be most persuasive to me (in order) were:

- Aren’t you worried about what’s going to happen to you when you die? (Yes, but they don’t have the answers either.)
- Don’t you see evidence for God everywhere? (Nope, in fact a God who doesn’t show up is tied for top place for me, along with the problem of unnecessary suffering.)
- What about all the predictions in the Bible that have come true? (WTF?)
- Yes, there are other religions, but our religion is the only one that has the Bible. (Not persuasive.)

I could see them coming to terms with each of my objections, and loading in their favorite responses to my objections. I was a little ashamed at how visceral the whole exchange was for me (I wished I could be more dispassionate), but the whole exchange was mostly enjoyable. Anyway, that’s the closest I’ve come to an actual face-to-face debate with strangers. The only real highlight for me was my dropping the “Find me one thing in that book that couldn’t have been known to a bunch of bronze age goat herders” when they talked about predictions, and that was because I could see that it was the first time one of them had heard the prediction assertion dealt with in that manner.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

Kaelik, thanks for the comments. Replying in reverse order;

2) “I sure as fuck don’t care about either of those.”

But some vegans do. Yet, ignoring that, let’s extend the analogy a bit. Just as you don’t care about either of those, if I was a part of the landed nobility or a slave owner not too long ago (or far away), I would not care about if it were morally wrong to take your land or your women. You, your land, your property — including your animal and human breading stock — is really mine and you’d be insolent to argue with me about that. Even the Irish were considered subhuman, a different race from other people in the British Isles, and suitable to be sold as slaves only a little bit further back.

That (I hope) you don’t consider other humans to be in different races or species is an improvement. Maybe the vegans are right and we are currently mistaken in our moral understanding of how the world should be?

If you want to say that morality only applies between humans that only decreases the complexity, but does not make the problem simple.

[ Disclosure: I'm currently eating a chicken burger and had steak over the weekend. ]

1) “Wouldn’t Objective Morality that is in the eye of the beholder be just subjective morality?”

It was written tongue in cheek. On a serious note, I don’t think it is either. There could be categories of objective morals, yet in application there has to be careful accounting for the situation and in many cases there will be winners and losers regardless of how much care, evidence, and thought are applied.

For example, the trolley problem and the smothered baby problem I cited here; http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10124 (August 4th).

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 9:37 am

Márcio, we’ve already listed quite a few replies along the lines of your comments. If you don’t read them, then there’s not much to discuss with you. Nonchai’s recommendation stands out as do quite a few others.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 9:46 am

@Hermes

I’m a moral error theorist. So I would argue that no improvement has been ever made, merely a different set of misunderstandings. In the future, I except we will have different misunderstandings as the most common.

I don’t consider different humans to be in other races or species as a factual matter, because current scientific research indicates that “races” do not in fact exist as such.

I merely addressed your example because it referred to animals starving or eating different human parts. But that is not a moral concern for most people. Most Theists believe animals are not capable of moral or immoral behavior. In addition, most vegans accept that it is okay for carnivores or omnivores who are not human to eat other animals, because they are blindingly stupid and do not actually think about the matter logically.

If you are going to bring up moral calculus or moral subjectivity, you should really use better examples, like for example, whether it is morally obligatory or morally unacceptable to murder your daughter for sleeping with a man of another religion.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 9:58 am

Kaelik, thanks again. In general, I agree and appreciate your insight. Do you, in general, agree that moral decisions can be difficult and that by necessity there will be losers in many actual situations regardless of the care and knowledge applied to them?

Note that in my reply — unlike my original post — I did point toward two famous (if not the most famous) moral quandaries; the trolley problem and the smothered baby problem (‘smother the baby to save the villagers’).

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 9:59 am

Tony Hoffman,

In the Bible, slavery is condoned, God demands that the Israelites commit genocide, and that adultery is punishable by death. If morality is truly objective under God, why does he change it so much?

And your opponent would crush you if you said this. The only think under discussion are the premises:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist
2. Objective moral values exist

If you talk about the Bible, you aren’t talking about either premise. There exists a generic “God of the philosophers” that is entirely separate from the Biblical God, and the debate exists in the realm of metaphysics, not the Bible.

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Hendy August 16, 2010 at 10:01 am

@nonchai:

I’d be interested in Luke’s response to your question as well. Justin has changed his theme to things other than apologetics because people aren’t convinced by arguments and reason, according to him.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

Hermes, I’m not sure I can answer that question. Can moral decisions be difficult in the sense that some people have difficulty deciding in situations on what they consider the most moral action? Yes. But some people, like myself, never face a difficult moral question, in my case, because all moral questions have the same answer, “No thing is morally impermissible.” In other people’s cases, questions might be easy because they follow categorical imperatives that make it easy.

You are speaking only to utilitarians in your conversation.

Do moral decisions have losers? I don’t know. Do you mean that in situations that some people consider moral situations, all possible outcomes result in at least someone being unhappy with the result? I’m sure such situations exist, but only utilitarians would say that someone loses in a moral situation, as someone following the categorical imperative would say that the unfortunate consequences are unfortunate, but necessary, and a moral error theorist might say for example, “Who gives fuck?”

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

@Hermes, and yes, I did notice your reference to other moral problems. That’s fine, I like those, I was just in general talking about that one situation.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 10:08 am

Martin,

Right, I didn’t mean that my first 3 suggestions were good ones or were even valid; I meant that something along that line would, if valid, be a good thing to have in your pocket (as an atheist debating a theist).

That being said, I would laugh out loud if I was in the audience and a Christian theist said that the God in the Bible is not relevant to the existence of God or objective moral values. I might be a jackass for doing so, but I’d still think it was a pretty preposterous thing to say. (But I agree that if this was a philosopher arguing with an atheist then my reply 2 would be irrelevant — I am just presuming Christian theist as the other side in this kind of debate.)

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 10:20 am

Tony,

I would laugh out loud if I was in the audience and a Christian theist said that the God in the Bible is not relevant to the existence of God or objective moral values.

I disagree. I think this type of discussion is a discussion about Biblical literalism, not God. If I were a theist I could easily take the position that the Bible is primitive man’s fallible written record of his relationship with God. Only fundie literalists are vulnerable to this type of criticism.

Listen to the first third of Luke’s interview with Wes Morriston: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6423

He’s a Christian philosopher with quite a bit of criticism directed toward the fundies and Biblical literalism…

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

Martin,

No problem. Like I said, I didn’t mean that my suggestions were the ones to use. Do you think that if Craig were the theist in the debate he would be able to brush aside my number 2 as easily as you believe Morriston would? I’m just curious if you think there’s a valid way for Craig to dismiss the problem of reconciling the Bible with the purported existence of objective morality since Craig’s source of objective morality is the God of the Bible.

But at the very least you have introduced the first branch that would come off something like retort number 2. If theist says, “My God is not the God of the Bible,” then the atheist reply should be…

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Max August 16, 2010 at 10:42 am

The moral argument is terrible. Divine command theory is just subjectvism writ large, so it does not get us objective values. IF God instantiates objective goodness, that is fine, but there is no necessity that this objective goodness be found in God, it could be simply a property found in the world (why does it have to be in God?)

It *could* be the case that God=good but the move is not necessasry for there to be objective morals.

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BW August 16, 2010 at 11:41 am

That was terribly written. Although there may have been some validity to some of the points, it was written in an apples to oranges way. Specifically, it generalizes all atheists while using a single example for theists. This is simply incorrect.

The atheist loses the chess match because he prepared for the debate by reading Wikipedia rather than Plantinga, Rowe, Alston, Oppy, and so on. A theist like Craig, on the other hand, has read all these thinkers many times over.

What? ‘The atheist’ vs. Craig argument really is oversimplified and pretty much incoherent (nonsensical). Specifically, it implies three things that are demonstrably false: 1) There are no atheists who are also experts in philosophy (Plantinga, Rowe, Alston, Oppy,) yet many prominent atheist like Dawkins and Hitchens are extremely well versed in philosophy. 2) It also implies that all atheist’s use (the lesser) Wikipedia to find information. Yet, even on my friend’s and my (more or less ‘amatuer’ atheist) blog we reference the work of many philosophers with great regularity. 3) It also asserts that all theists have more experience and knowledge than atheists, but pointing out that one ‘heavy hitter’ is an expert and knows more than the run-of-the-mill atheist. Comparing the composite average to the best of the best? Does that really say anything?

This is like saying, American basketball players aren’t very good because most of them practice on outdoor courts. However, in general, Spanish basketball players beat American players because Pau Gasol plays for the L.A. Lakers. /Shakes head.

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Tony,

Craig has brushed off Bible criticisms easily before. He used to try to justify God’s behavior in the OT, which makes me shudder, but now he goes what I think is the route he should go. He just says that that is a debate over Biblical literalism, which is not the topic today. He says that if God commanded genocide against the Canaanites, that perhaps the human writers were simply mistaken.

If theist says, “My God is not the God of the Bible,” then the atheist reply should be…

The theist would probably not say that. Listen to the Wes Morriston interview and think about how he would frame it. In fact, he has a paper on this very thing: http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/selected-papers.html

Here is a quote:

I do think that the difficult of reconciling belief in God’s perfect goodness with the biblical passages in which God commands genocide constitues quite a strong prima facie reason for Christians to adopt a more flexible view of the OT – one on which the most problematic passages reflect the (comparatively low) level of moral development of the human authors, and not the acts of a perfectly good God.

In other words, a sophisticated theist would probably say that his God is the Biblical God but that the Bible is the written record of fallible man’s encounter with him, not the perfect word of God himself. The human authors write down that God told them to kill all the Canaanites, and God does a mega-facepalm. That’s when he decides that he needs to send a messenger down to give them a nudge in the right direction. Lo and behold, here comes Jesus, telling everyone how nice it would be to be nice to people for a change.

I don’t see that as implausible, were I a Christian.

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James Thompson August 16, 2010 at 12:28 pm

An advantage the Craig has is making his opponents play “Whack a Mole” his definition of God and/or its connection to the Bible or even Jesus does change.

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Haecceitas August 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm

“Specifically, it implies three things that are demonstrably false: 1) There are no atheists who are also experts in philosophy (Plantinga, Rowe, Alston, Oppy,) “

Plantinga and Alston are theists, Rowe and Oppy are atheists. I get the impression that you thought they are all theists.

“yet many prominent atheist like Dawkins and Hitchens are extremely well versed in philosophy.”

I’d say that both of these men are extremely poorly versed in philosophy.

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Haecceitas August 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Just to modify my last statement a bit, perhaps it would be more fair to say that Dawkins and Hitchens are relatively poorly versed in philosophy, given that they are considered leading spokespersons for atheism.

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Nonchai August 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Did anyone catch the recent debate between Ray Bradley and some kiwi apologist recently in NZ?.

I listened to it and Bradley showed how it should be done. A very funny delivery but at the same time ramming the points home.

I think it shows that if its an philosopher with debating experience the outcome is very different. I think any other kind of atheist – be it an outspoken atheist or scientist are better just avoiding this medium.

The best kind of person to defeat a philosophically trained xtian apologist is a philosophically trained atheist “apologist”. Does such a thing exist ? of course not ! why should there be ?

Whereas theres buckedloads of cash going into the coffers of xtian apologists and for good reason of course – its a vital part of “defense of faith” and “soul saving” – whereas theres virtually no monetary support or perceived need ( currently ) for the equivalent on our side. Lets face it – atheist scientists prefer to do and talk about science. Atheist philosphers prefer to focus on their own hobby horses.

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Reginald Selkirk August 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

mirabilis: I haven’t heard any athiest come up with a good argument about objective moral values.

You mean something short, clear and pithy, like: “objective morals don’t exist.”

I have heard it. have you ever wondered why the moral values we have today are not the same as those handed to man by God in the Old Testament?

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Reginald Selkirk August 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm

He says that if God commanded genocide against the Canaanites, that perhaps the human writers were simply mistaken.

Craig says that? I doubt it.

He wasn’t saying that in 2006 when he debated Bart Ehrman on historical evidence for the resurrection. And it could be problematic for him to say that now, because he works at the Talbot School of Theology, which is part of Bioloa University. Here is Biola’s Doctrinal Statement:

The Bible, consisting of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, a supernaturally given revelation from God Himself, concerning Himself, His being, nature, character, will and purposes; and concerning man, his nature, need and duty and destiny. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Reginald,

As I said, in older debates he used to defend OT genocide, and he certainly does in his personal beliefs and in articles on the RF website, but in newer debates he does not (at least the ones I’ve listened to). He concludes that such talk is a different topic (Biblical literalism) and hence is a red herring and refuses to let atheists de-rail the talk.

I completely agree with him (on the second part, not the part where he defends genocide). Atheists’ inability to focus has been quite superhuman in some of these debates, both online and off.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Martin, 2006 is not that long ago. Do you have more recent examples that show his probable current point of view?

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm

As I said, I don’t think his actual point of view has changed at all. I just think he’s being more assertive (in some debates) in not letting atheists introduce red herrings. I agree 100%.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Craig can’t argue one god that’s not embarrassing and then flip in another that is when it isn’t under examination. Well, I guess he can because he does, yet beyond being deceptive and illogical it’s a questionable ethical move that shows up often in his KCA talks; 95% deist-like special philosophical deity, and 5% Yahweh/Jesus.

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oarobin August 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm

luke,
i second the calls for you to tell us your criteria for judging debates. are you judging by the number of unrebutted points made,rhetorical flow of the presenters,comprehensibility of the points made, etc? are you considering misquotes, false assertions and unsound arguments?

i think the problem with these debates is far too much emphasis is placed on the logical validity of an argument and not enough on it soundness. this allows a person such as Craig to assert a bevy of highly speculative, contested sometimes unreasonable claims as premises to reach his conclusion.his opponents then make the mistake of thinking Craig is arguing for the soundness of his argument, he is not. he is arguing for the validity of his arguments which is clear but trivial given the logical form of his arguments.

i think the best counter for this style of arguing is to use the same strategy by coming up with valid arguments that reach the opposite conclusion as Craig’s with the same minimal efforts in justifying them.

e.g. an argument for the nonexistence of god from moral values.

1. if god exist then objective moral values exist
2. objective moral values do not exist
3.therefore god does not exist.

no justification needed for the premises just say something about the various moral codes contradicting each other and move on.

this should force the discussion into the more useful aspects of trying to justify one’s premises but no guarantees.

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Zak August 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Meatros,

The other debater you are thinking of is Farrell Till.

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ildi August 16, 2010 at 2:12 pm

If God commands us to do something, then the very fact of his command is reason enough to explain the change of the moral status of an action, even an action which may originally have been immoral. Thus, for example, Abraham’s action to sacrifice Isaac – in the absence of a command from God – would indeed have been atrocious. But the very fact that God issued his command to Abraham, changes the situation altogether. What was originally an immoral action is now an act of submission, of obedience toward God. Thus Abraham commits no wrong.

-William Lane Craig, Did God Commit Atrocities in the Old Testament? 3/3/2008

Even if WLC considers this story to be just a parable, it’s still pretty sucky.

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Hendy August 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm

@Anyone-about-Craig:

I’ve pulled a crap load of Craig debates from Luke’s debates page and every single time it has come up Craig has not used a mistaken author tactic but the following [paraphrased, yet he uses almost the same language every time]:

“God, as creator, is perfectly justified in removing anyone he wants from existence. He is the only reason I have being and thus, who am I to say what he can and can’t do. If he wants to remove me from this chair right now he is perfectly entitled to do so.”

On his SITE (click top link; WordPress wouldn’t allow the direct link for some reason), however, he seems to, indeed, support the possibility of 1) the Israelites being mistaken and not actually having god’s dictates to kill the Canaanites or 2) they didn’t really happen (they are folklore).

Anyway, regarding the god-can-zap-me defense, I’d say from my reasonably extensive listening to Craig debates that Luke’s point in this article stands. I’ve never once heard an opponent respond to that statement. Meanwhile I’m getting weird looks while driving in my car because I’m jumping up and down screaming, “You’re letting him get away with that?!? Tell him that cosmic zapping is obviously not the same as saying, ‘Take up this sword and slaughter those non-believers with your bare hands’.”

I’ve obviously been flabbergasted that no one else has pointed this out to him. Honestly, fine, if god exists let him just “remove someone from existence,” but how in the hell is god doing it the same as getting some other people to endure PTSD and lost family and friends by carrying out the far more painful and marring deed for god?

I agree with Luke in a lot of ways. As a seriously ignorant amateur I’ve heard Craig enough to anticipate moves and at least have some responses to the typical ones he gets away with even if my philosophy for some of the others is not anywhere close to his level. Atheist debaters should be listening to all of Craig’s previous debates and writing down all of the hackneyed responses he uses so that they are eight moves ahead.

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm

“Debates are not a great method for truth-seeking, and they’re only one tiny part of the intellectual struggle among worldviews”

While I agree with this, I have to wonder: If instead it were the case that atheists tended to ‘win’ most debates with theists, wouldn’t it be reasonable for atheists to conclude that this fact said something, even if very little, about the rationality of atheism vis-a-vis theism? I mean, if this were so, and the typical theist retort was, “Yeah, but you atheists only win most of the time because you have better debaters, and because your position is easier to defend,” do you honestly think you’d conclude that the line of reasoning evinced by this response was dispositive?

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Hermes,

Craig and other sophisticated theists argue for generic theism, then connect it with the Bible via Jesus. But this is still a separate issue from Biblical literalism. I don’t see why someone can’t believe in the Biblical God and simultaneously believe that the Bible was written by human authors with all the petty squabbling that comes along with that.

As Wes Morriston puts it: people like Craig are confusing fallible mankind’s written account of God’s revelation with the revelation itself.

He refers to it as a type of idolatry: worshipping a book instead of God.

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Roman August 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Martin, I like your comment.
I agree that Morriston has a seemingly pretty good answer to reconciling theism with the OT genocide. (He’s so clever!)

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm

oarobin, I like it. If they demand evidence just say that it’s not needed for them, so why are you required to provide any?

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cl August 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Interesting post. For the most part, I agree that many atheists come across as philosophically ill-equipped, not only in debates, but also published works [cf. Dawkins' TGD, Mills' Atheist Universe].

Maybe all the theist’s arguments are terrible, but to win the debate, the atheist has to show why his arguments are terrible, and (in some way) must give some good arguments for his own position.

This caught my attention because – and I am not necessarily speaking in the limited context of debate here – many atheists will emphatically deny that they even have a position to give arguments for. For many atheists, atheism simply entails denial of theism, and that’s it. We can argue all day about whether that’s technically correct, but I believe it’s a strategic failure. Accordingly, many of these atheists use what I call the “draw the line in the sand” technique, where all they have to do is keep coming up with excuses or “trick questions” to allow themselves to remain unconvinced of the theist’s arguments. I could see perhaps how a naturalist or physicalist might be reasonably expected to defend their position, but that’s because they have the wherewithall to declare one in the first place. In my experience, many atheists refuse to take that step, and there’s a common response for those types of arguments: “well then, what’s your explanation?” Even when atheists do successfully point out badness in a theist’s argument, that’s only half the battle. IMO, the atheist ought to do more than simply remain unconvinced of the theist’s explanation. It’s like, “Okay, so you’re not a Republican. Then what are you?”

The thread’s taken an interesting direction of its own, as well:

Well there’s your problem right there. People who believe in objective moral values, including you, ought to be required to demonstrate their existence. [Reginald]

I agree, and think more people ought to hold such claimants accountable. The way some people let Luke and Fyfe get away with loose arguments, unjustified assertions and blatant contradictions is analogous to the way some people let pastors get away with loose arguments, unjustified assertions and blatant contradictions. OTOH, I suppose this is actually all in accord with Luke’s constant reminders that all humans are prone towards irrationality. Perhaps the problem is that I was naïve to expect better from atheists. OTOH, I made that expectation because, well… atheists are typically the ones paying homage to rational rigor.

The only real highlight for me was my dropping the “Find me one thing in that book that couldn’t have been known to a bunch of bronze age goat herders” [Tony Hoffman]

Don’t you find the allusions to a “universe in decay” or a cosmos that is “winding down” even the least bit compelling? Or, that the “cosmos” had a beginning? Science has affirmed these things, yet, how could the authors of the various scriptures have known them? I anticipate an objection to the interpretation, followed by a request for something more specific. Else, I can’t see how those aren’t examples of what you’re looking for.

Luke – is there any particular xtian blog that in your view puts forth well reasoned arguments without too many ( or any ) irritating apologetic tricks ? [nonchai]

I applaud your “test ourselves for confirmation bias” approach. While I have no idea what you’d ultimately conclude about my strategy should you decide to have a go, I can say that I attempt well-reasoned arguments supported by empirical observation whenever possible [and appropriate]. For example, if you were to ask, “What kind of evidence can you give me for an afterlife,” I would likely begin by pointing you to my articles on Marianne George. IOW, I’m not just going to tell you that it’s my gut feeling and call it a day. At any rate, here’s a link to my extended argument [which is itself a work in progress]. I welcome your commentary and also understand if you’re not interested or simply don’t have the time.

…luke really pisses me off now that I’ve been around long enough to get the sense of this place. He paints such an air of philosophical rigor, but apparently is just all to busy to ever even pretend to present any arguments for desirism. Even the giant FAQ does nothing to actually argue for it, only present it’s tenets. [Kaelik]

Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you for speaking up, and welcome to the leagues [of people who are not willing to simply accept the unsupported arguments]. The Desirism FAQ is just a bunch of empty promises, for the most part. I don’t know that I’d say this situation “pisses me off,” but I find myself facepalming a lot more often around here lately. You’re right: there’s totally this air of philosophical rigor, but the follow-through just isn’t there. In another post, Luke remarked that he “needed to hurry up and get a Ph.D.” I think those types of off-the-cuff comments can reveal quite a bit at times. I think the focus should be on cogency and objectivity, not hurried efforts towards some exterior trapping that may or may not be a reliable indicator thereof.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 3:33 pm

“welcome to the leagues [of people who are not willing to simply accept the unsupported arguments].”

I invented the league.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

@cl, could you more precisely locate a place to start in there for looking for your arguments in favor of objective morality? I assume you do in fact have them somewhere?

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cl August 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Kaelik,

I don’t really have any arguments for objective morality. Honestly, I don’t even know if the question “is morality objective or subjective” can make sense. I’m essentially an error theorist who believes that only an omniscient, omnibenevolent God [or equivalent entity] can justify moral prescriptions on something besides arbitrary fancy, intuition, or bias. I don’t know if prescriptions based on knowledge would count as “objective” in your ontology. If so, then yes, I suppose you could say I believe in something like “objective morality” [taken roughly to mean a source of moral prescriptions outside ourselves that corresponds to something other than arbitrary fancy, intuition, or bias].

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Márcio August 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Evil exists(something is really evil).
3. Therefore, objective moral values exist.
4. Therefore, God exists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZylvupAhg8

I like this argument because if premisse 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.

If premisse 2 is true, than objective moral values do exists and God exists too.

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm

“I like this argument because if premisse 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.”

Marcio, I don’t think that’s the case. Arguments from evil don’t necessarily suppose that anything ‘really’ is evil, but that some theists, such as Christian theists, must accept both that evil exists and that an all good, omnipotent god exists. That is, the conclusion of the argument is that theism of that sort is inconsistent, since it’s committed to both the reality of evil and the goodness (and omnipotence) of god.

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Márcio August 16, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Eric,

Christians do accept the existance of evil and the existance of an all good and all powerfull God. There is no inconsistency at all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES8bBoC5QJ4&feature=related

Here we have one answer to that.

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Marcio, I agree, there are some good responses to the problem of evil (in its various forms). My only point was that it’s not true that atheists who run the problem of evil must themselves believe that “evil exists”; rather, it suffices for the atheist if theists believe both that “evil exists” and that god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Martin,

Sorry, but I’m having trouble following your objection at this point. You accuse the atheists on the topic of objective morality of having superhuman inability to focus, but it appears to me that Craig (the ideal theist debater in this discussion) freely picks from a God of classical theism for the purpose of putting forward a moral argument, while vowing to have complete faith in the Biblical God. So who’s having trouble focusing?

So this would be my suggested debate tree with Craig (so far):

Craig: “Objective morality exists.”
Me: “But the God of the Bible changes his moral dictates, and his followers vacillate their moral notions based on what era they live in. This is the opposite of what we’d expect from a religion that claims to have grounded itself in an objective morality.”
Craig: “We are not talking about the God of the Bible here, but the God of classical theism.”
Me: “Okay, so when it comes to moral questions, why don’t we throw out the Bible and obey God’s will by perceiving the objective morality, each to his own, that you assert exits?”

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James Farrell August 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Like a few other commenters, I’m puzzled why Luke is so impressed with Craig’s arguments. They are pitched, it seems to me, at a particular portion of the audience: theists who are educated enough to digest a reasoned argument but not particularly sceptical or curious about the premises. Such people just want to be reassured that there exists a sophisticated case for the religious doctrines they publicly adhere to. I can’t imagine any thinking atheist being swayed by Craig’s debating points.

Craig’s objective morality argument is the most brazenly circular of his five. He drags the concept of objectivity into an area where it has no agreed application, without pausing for a moment to acknowledge the pitfalls involved. He practically defines objective morality as rules laid down by God. Then he asserts that its existence is self-evident.

Instead of justifying the claim, he is content to bully his opponent by daring him or her to disagree that child rape or gassing Jews is objectively wrong. I wish one of his antagonists would just ask him if homosexual relations is objectively wrong, or factory farming. He couldn’t possibly argue that moral truths regarding those issues are revealed by introspection. Once you abandon the gut instinct approach, you can only salvage ‘objective morality’ by appeal to the authority of the Bible (which in this instance would beg the question), or appeal to some species of utilitarian, contractarian, or indeed desirist argument.

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TaiChi August 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Did anyone catch the recent debate between Ray Bradley and some kiwi apologist recently in NZ?.
I listened to it and Bradley showed how it should be done. A very funny delivery but at the same time ramming the points home.
~ Nonchai

Ray was good, but I did find myself wondering why I should think that the Bible is to be taken literally. The closest Ray came to that was to wearily admonish Flannagan by saying that the Bible is the word of God, I suppose suggesting that this fact would be argument enough. Maybe something hereabouts works to that end..

1. The Bible is the word of God. [Assumption]
2.. If the Bible is the word of God, then the Bible is God’s intended communication to us.
3. Ceteris paribus, a relatively clear and unambiguous communication is to be preferred, for the purposes of communication, over a relatively unclear and ambiguous communication.
4. A literal document is relatively clear and unambigious, whereas a non-literal document, or a document which mixes both the literal and the non-literal, is relatively unclear and ambiguous.
5. So, ceteris paribus, God would communicate via a literal document over a non-literal document, or mixed document.
6. Therefore, biblical literalism is the default position, only to be dislodged if the case can be made that ceteris paribus does not hold – that is, by finding some non-communicative purpose that God might’ve had for the Bible.

..but it was disappointing that he didn’t spell it out.

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Marcio –
like this argument because if premisse 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.

Even if the atheist denies the existence of evil, the problem of evil is still an internal problem for the theist because the theist does think evil exists. So since the theist believes in Evil and in an Ominbenevolent God, the argument still stand, despite what the arguer thinks about evil. As you said:

Marcio –
Christians do accept the existance of evil and the existance of an all good and all powerfull God.

John Loftus pointed this out as a response to CS Lewis’ argument against the problem of evil (Why I Became An Atheist):
“The dilemma for the theist is to reconcile senseless suffering in the world with her own beliefs (not mine)…”(pg 243)

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm

@ Márcio

“1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Evil exists(something is really evil).
3. Therefore, objective moral values exist.
4. Therefore, God exists.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZylvupAhg8
I like this argument because if premisse 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.
If premisse 2 is true, than objective moral values do exists and God exists too.”

Premise two is false. Premise one is basically the Craigian tactic of assuming for the sake of argument that your entire argument is absolutely true. I can name eight ways objective morality could exist without god, and already demonstrated that Divine Command Theory has no claim as an objective moral source.

And no, premise two being false does not negate the problem of evil.

Theists claim that evil exists, and that an omnipotent omnibenevolent deity exists. I question whether those are in fact compatible.

Likewise, if a man came up to me on the street and said that a live undigested invisible pink unicorn exists in his garage, and also a dragon that personally killed, eaten, and digested every single invisible pink unicorn in existence… I would point out that both those statements cannot be true, and the fact that one is false would not automatically make the other true.

The problem of evil exists for the theist, not for the atheist, because we don’t have to believe in things that don’t exist.

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Eric August 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Marcio –
It’s not whether or not you have solved the problem of evil. It is whether or not the problem still exists despite the atheists counter to your argument using objective morals. Your youtube video is basically a red herring.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm

A very interesting Red Herring. Look how quickly “Poor people have a reason to hope for a better afterlife, and when coerced into accepting Jesus in order to accept live saving food, often do so.” Turned into “But isn’t it the case that having money obstructs our view of God?”

No, having money doesn’t obstruct our view of god. If you want to try that as a debate tactic, you have to demonstrate that people actually have a view of god, not just that you want them to for the sake of avoiding the discussion of how Christian missionaries and charities make aid dependent on acceptance of Jesus.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 6:30 pm

CL, yes, I’d like to see a reference to: a “universe in decay” or a cosmos that is “winding down.” But c’mon — the Genesis story, and the Christian interpretations of reality based on Biblical accounts of nature? If you want to count one good prediction, how do you discount the bad ones?

I once listened to the introductory Physics lectures by Feynman. In them, he states at the beginning that if all knowledge was destroyed and we could only pass on one piece of information to the generation that followed, it would be (roughly) “All matter is made up of tiny particles (atoms) arranged in different ways.” Now if the Bible had relayed something like that, and taken some pains to do so, now that would have impressed me.

I have a question for you: if an insight in physics was announced tomorrow that the quantum vaccuum leads us to conclude in an infinite regression of universes, would you find more persuasive the Eastern religions that have held that it’s “turtles all the way down?”

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Hendy August 16, 2010 at 6:39 pm

@cl:

If I click on a post in your linked index and it just brings up the index page again, does that mean it’s not written yet? Several links don’t seem to go anywhere…

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Tony,

“Okay, so when it comes to moral questions, why don’t we throw out the Bible and obey God’s will by perceiving the objective morality, each to his own, that you assert exits?”

Indeed:

I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts. — Hebrews 8:10.

I think a sophisticated theist could easily say that the real Bible just is the objective moral realm we all sense (some better than others), and the written Bible is a snapshot of where this “discovery” was 2500 years ago. Theist and atheist alike have access to it; our discovery is still in the primitive stages, and thus we still don’t agree on a lot of morality, in much the same way physicists don’t agree on the various interpretations of quantum mechanics.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Martin,

Interesting. It appears that you believe that the sophisticated theist would quote the Bible as the rationale to throw out the Bible.

I have to say, I like your sophisticated theism more than most of the other varieties of theism I encounter.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I like this argument because if premisse 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.

Which is why most debates on this topic don’t focus on evil, which is a loaded and ambiguous term, but rather on suffering, which has a much clearer meaning and gets more directly to the point. That suffering exists is certainly objectively true, but suffering itself is also intensely and necessarily subjective, so where does that leave us? Does the statement “suffering exists” entail “objective morality exists”? What makes you think people would not suffer (a biological fact) if subjective morality (or no morality at all) was the best we had to go by?

Craig: “Objective morality exists.”
Me: “But the God of the Bible changes his moral dictates, and his followers vacillate their moral notions based on what era they live in. This is the opposite of what we’d expect from a religion that claims to have grounded itself in an objective morality.”

And Craig would point out that you are equating moral objectivism with moral absolutism. And he would be right.

If you want to beat him on this point, you have to show that either (a) objective morality does not exist (i.e. show the concept is incoherent) or (b) atheism is consistent with objective morality. No amount of biblical/historical criticism addresses either of these points. Craig can literally concede every point you make and claim he has won the argument, which is exactly what Luke is talking about.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 6:55 pm

“If you want to beat him on this point, you have to show that either (a) objective morality does not exist (i.e. show the concept is incoherent) or (b) atheism is consistent with objective morality.”

You forgot “(c) No compelling evidence has ever been presented for objective morality.”

The burden of proof is not on me to prove it doesn’t exist.

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Tony Hoffman August 16, 2010 at 7:00 pm

“If you want to beat him on this point, you have to show that either (a) objective morality does not exist (i.e. show the concept is incoherent) or (b) atheism is consistent with objective morality. No amount of biblical/historical criticism addresses either of these points. Craig can literally concede every point you make and claim he has won the argument, which is exactly what Luke is talking about.”

Hmm. I’ll consider this. I’m just not sure yet.

I do think that if Craig wants to admit to his audience that God can change his mind about torturing babies for fun and that this is still objective morality, then I’ve probably won the debate no matter how drunk I get for the rest of it.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Kaelik: Theists claim that evil exists, and that an omnipotent omnibenevolent deity exists. I question whether those are in fact compatible.

To point out that you are being understated would be an understatement.

:-P

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Tony and Kaelik,

Here’s one essay I found supporting objective morality:

http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/objectiv.htm

And keep in mind that most philosophers lean towards moral objectivity. And also keep in mind that many people would probably agree that objective morality is a more accurate description of our moral sense. It’s a lot easier to support than relative morality.

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Tony,

Not throw it out, perhaps; but realize that God is Plato’s Absolute Good. The Bible just represents one group of peoples’ encounters with it. It would still contain plenty of insight, inspiration, etc. And plenty of ugly humanity as well. But the last word on whether, say, homosexuality is wrong? It’s written on our hearts. The mistake fundies make is letting a morally underdeveloped culture’s writings override their own morality.

Hmm. I’ll consider this. I’m just not sure yet.

Matthew (and Craig) are 100% correct. In rational debate, you have to focus only on the premises and nothing else. Either show that morality is relative, or show a way to have objective morality without God. If you want to win the debate, that is.

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Brian_G August 16, 2010 at 7:28 pm

In any debate I’ve heard, there seems to be a big advantage for the person holding the negative position. It’s easier to tear down a position or find problems with it then to carefully expound a position of one own. There is also an advantage for the person who goes last. Since they get the last word and their opponent has no opportunity to respond.

An atheist has both of these advantages when debating William Lane Craig. I can’t think of a single case where Craig went last. In addition, Craig uses the same opening statement almost word for word at every debate. So it should be easy for an atheist to respond to it point by point.

So outside of the question of who has the better arguments, there are good reasons to think that the atheist should have the upper hand in these debates. Of course Craig is a talented debater and he is well studied in these matters.

I think the problem is that the atheist doesn’t have much to offer.

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The Barefoot Bum August 16, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Martin: As a debater, I’d say, “Fair enough, I’ll grant you the point: God is slavery; God is the rape and oppression of women; God is the slaughter of innocents in wars of conquest. If that’s what you’re calling “objective” morality, I’ll happily stick with my subjective version.”

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Matthew D. Johnston August 16, 2010 at 7:58 pm

You forgot “(c) No compelling evidence has ever been presented for objective morality.”

The burden of proof is not on me to prove it doesn’t exist.

I’m not going to get into semantics about the burden of proof, so I’m going to chalk this up as basically my point (a).

But I don’t think you would get away with saying this in a debate over morality whether at the public or academic level. While it is certainly valid to point out that Craig’s assertion that objective morality exists deserves justification beyond “I just feel it is so”, claiming “morals are subjective (or non-existent) until proven otherwise” isn’t going to win many people over. Morality is not like fairies or trolls or leprechauns (or even gods). Nobody looks indifferently at a fatal car crash when they discover the driver had been drinking – they say what he did was wrong. The question, for all intents and purposes, isn’t whether it was wrong, whether wrongness exists, but what we mean by the word. What makes something wrong? Would it always have been wrong, regardless of circumstances/time frame/culture? Is it only wrong as a matter of consensus? Is it an inevitable outcome of our biological evolution? These are big questions I don’t you can just dance around by claiming the burden of proof rests on the other guy.

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TaiChi August 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm

.. on the other hand, Craig’s claim that “If God does not exist, objective morality does not exist” is ripe for a burden of proof response.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm

@Martin

I’m not sure what your basis for the claim of most philosophers is, but I’ll grant you most people. Most people are also wrong. Why do most people believe morals are objective? Because they feel that way. That’s not even an argument, much less a good one.

Most people being X is a fallacy for a reason, I want some argument for why I should believe that when they plainly don’t feel very objective to me.

As to your Link, I read it the last time, and laughed. For starters, anyone who confuses moral error theory for moral relativism is a rank amateur on that basis alone. Secondly, you’ll notice that his entire refutation to moral error theory is:

“This theory is really quite outrageous. It implies, among other things, that it is not the case that people generally ought to eat when hungry; that Hitler was not a bad person; that happiness is not good; and so on. I submit that this is simply absurd. I feel much more confidence in those denied judgements, as I think nearly everybody does, than I can imagine feeling in any philosophical arguments for relativism. At least, I think it would take an extremely strong argument to shake my confidence that happiness is preferable to misery, or the like. And there does not seem to be any argument at all with that import. It is hard to see how there could be.”

In other words… He really really feels like morals exist, so they must, right? Right?

No, that’s not an argument.

@Matthew

I could expound on the evolutionary and cultural reasons for why people are more likely to believe that drunk driving is morally wrong. (I say more likely because not all people would agree with you, some would find that variable completely meaningless, which is quite the point in this situation.)

But I don’t have to. I’m claiming that I don’t believe in things without a good reason to believe them, and that you have not presented me with any good reason to believe them.

Certainly, I can point out that you consider running your daughter over in a car because she was going to marry someone of another religion wrong, whereas many people all over the world would find the act of allowing her to marry someone of another religion wrong, and would in fact find the action of murdering her worthy of praise.

For every claim of a situation with objective morality governing human response, I can point to situations where responses are obviously not coming from any objective morality. Certainly, I can do that. But if your claim is that morality is objective, then you must back that up with some form of argument.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm

@Kaelik – I’m not arguing morals are objective. I’m arguing that, given that every person has a set of values with which they assess the world (i.e. nobody is indifferent to everything), the burden of proof rests with anybody making a claim about what the sources of these values happens to be (or should be).

The irony is, in your last post, you gave an argument for your position. I think the way you criticized objective morality would be appropriate for a debate. All I’m saying is that you have to give that argument (i.e. you can’t just state the burden of proof doesn’t lie with you in lieu of that argument).

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Martin, I apologize for not giving a more complete response. There’s quite a lot of activity here at the moment, and it is difficult to keep up.

Instead of tossing this one snippet, admittedly incomplete, I’ll post it.

Martin: I don’t see why someone can’t believe in the Biblical God and simultaneously believe that the Bible was written by human authors with all the petty squabbling that comes along with that.

Well, I agree to a point (note that I did not bring up literalism myself). Let me explain using a simple yet clear example; the world wide Noechain flood story in Genesis.

How someone interprets that story and it’s actual or cultural truths says quite a bit about how the person thinks or if they have thought through the story at all. If I were a Christian, I would jettison that whole book or treat it as quaintly barbaric like many non-Abrahamic religious stories at the time.

Yet, where should the line be drawn between claims? Toss out the OT entirely? Just Genesis, or just specific stories? Would it be best to move to the coloqually named Jefferson Bible, silently discarding the OT and all but about 47 pages of the NT? Craig seems to hold that the Bible is a reliable guide to his religion, yet he promotes many things that I would consider as unrealistic as the world wide flood story such as an afterlife realm. Now, I’m not a Christian so my judgment of where the line should be drawn can be ignored by many Christians. Yet even among Christians that is a wide and roaming topic with quite a bit of contention from the level of sects through to individual believers.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Kaelik, being right and still losing the debate is a problem.

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm

@Hermes

Clearly. In that case, the problem is obviously with the debate rules that determine victory based on something besides good argument.

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Kaelik,

As for moral objectivity being heavily agreed upon by philosophers, see here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=5552

56.3% subscribe to moral realism, and only 27.7% subscribe to anti-realism.

But you’re right. Appeal to authority, although rational as long as that authority is in the correct field, is not enough by itself.

Arguments for and against it are inherently difficult, in the same way it’s inherently difficult to argue for the existence of other minds or the external world. In those cases you might also just have to appeal to collective intuition. Nonetheless…

Against moral relativism:

1. Moral disputes cannot be settled on relativism. Saying Hitler was wrong is like saying strawberry ice cream sucks; it’s entirely a matter of opinion and your opinion carries no more weight than Hitler’s.

2. On moral relativity, to say something is “good” is saying the same thing as “I like it.” But the word “good” has a definition (as difficult as that may be); the word means something. If it means the same as “I like it” then for you the word “good” means “you like something else” and so on. It has no definition on moral relativism.

3. Finally, on moral relativism there is no reason to do one’s moral duty. There are times when doing one’s duty against one’s inclinations is the moral thing to do, but on moral relativism you create your own morality and hence, there is no reason to do something you don’t want to do.

For moral objectivism:

1. There is a sense that a moral statement is either true or false. “Raping and killing young women is wrong” is a statement capable of being either true or false, in much the same way “Paris is a city in France” is a statement capable of being either true or false.

2. Moral objectivity allows a sense of moral duty. It is wrong to not pay back my debt, even if I don’t want to and I have no money to do so.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Kaelik, I agree completely.

Another note about debates. I’ve noticed a few times that the topic of the debate was changed a day or less before the debate. The group changing it was each time the Christian theist group. That still amazes me. One, that they would have the nerve to do such as shoddy tactic. Two, that it is often OK with the host of the debate. Yet, they did and they were allowed. Shameless.

If a sane and through debate structure were arranged, I would be surprised if all theists would stick to it.

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Martin August 16, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Hermes,

Yet, where should the line be drawn between claims? Toss out the OT entirely? Just Genesis, or just specific stories? Would it be best to move to the coloqually named Jefferson Bible, silently discarding the OT and all but about 47 pages of the NT?

I don’t think Christians should either toss or keep the OT. Wes Morriston has a whole paper on this: http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/wes/DidGodCommandGenocide.pdf

At the end, he quotes from C.S. Lewis:

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even…wickedness are not removed.

The value of the Old Testament may be dependant on what seems its imperfection. It may repel one use in order that we may be forced to use it in another way – to find the Word in it, not without repeated and leisurely readings nor without discriminations made by our conscience and our critical faculties, to re-live, while we read, the whole Jewish experience of God’s gradual and graded self-revelation.

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Hermes August 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Martin: I don’t think Christians should either toss or keep the OT.

Well, it’s obvious that they can’t; the religion depends on it for justification. That said, there’s a reason why the Jews have referred to Christians as Hellenists and not as a term of flattery.

The point I was aiming at was that there’s no clear line where parts can be kept or discarded or interpreted one way or another — so many disagreements between sects and individuals highlight this. This forces me to talk to each and every Christian individually. While I find little interesting in Christianity, if I were to address the version(s) of Christianity before finding out what the one Christian I’m talking with actually believes or thinks, I’d be blamed for misunderstanding what this one person thinks.

(As that’s largely fruitless, I tend to focus on what I think and attempt to convey that. There’s enough ignorance about non-Christians (as well as other Christians) among Christians that it already can take up all the time available anyway.)

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Kaelik August 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm

@Martin

Once again, you are conflating moral relativism with moral error theory. Those things are not the same.

1) Right, and so? You don’t agree with Hitler, Hitler doesn’t agree with you. You cannot resolve that dispute by pointing to morals because there are no morals to point to. He has his opinions, and you have yours, and they are not the same, and you have no evidence to sway each other, because morals do not exist.

Not an argument.

2) “I think blooby realism is clearly more likely than blooby subjectivism, because if it isn’t, fukufku has no meanging!” The fact that a word exists doesn’t mean it describes a real thing. The word good could very well mean “the outcome that I personally find most acceptable” and that would in no way mean that it “doesn’t mean anything” as you put it.

Not an Argument.

3) Yep, no reason to do a moral duty, because there are no moral duties. So? How is that in any way an argument for moral realism or objectivism?

Nat an argument.

Basically, you are just arguing for the truth of moral realism based on the fact that you don’t like the consequences if it isn’t true.

I don’t like the consequences of there not being a million dollars in my bank account, but at no point do I get confused and start to think there is actually a million dollars in my bank account.

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lukeprog August 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm

CharlesP,

Sorry, not sure.

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lukeprog August 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Hendy,

Re: Faith Heuristic’s response. First, neither Craig nor Ayala deny evolution. Second, I didn’t read any more of Faith Heuristic’s post.

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cl August 16, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Regarding whether or not the veracity of Márcio’s 2nd premise affects the POE, I don’t think it does. The atheist who uses a POE argument is alleging an inconsistency in the theist’s argument, and doesn’t necessarily have to believe that either God or evil exists in order to do so.

Kaelik,

[I] demonstrated that Divine Command Theory has no claim as an objective moral source.

I don’t think you did, though, that depends on how you define “objective moral source.”

…if a man came up to me on the street and said that a live undigested invisible pink unicorn exists in his garage, and also a dragon that personally killed, eaten, and digested every single invisible pink unicorn in existence… I would point out that both those statements cannot be true, and the fact that one is false would not automatically make the other true.

I would agree with you there, but I would disagree that yours is a fair analogy. Nothing in the assertion of an omnipotent God necessarily precludes the existence of evil. The burden is on the person making that argument to demonstrate that it is so. To date, I haven’t seen it, and have never really been persuaded by POE arguments. I think most people are persuaded by them because of their strong emotional appeal. I like to argue in the freezer.

Tony Hoffman,

If you want to count one good prediction, how do you discount the bad ones?

Which “bad ones” are you alluding to?

Psalm 102:26 states that the shamayim will “wear out like a garment.” The Hebrew shamayim denotes heaven, or the heavens, and was used to refer to the visible universe in Hebrew cosmology. The Hebrew balah corresponds to “wear out,” and denotes the using up of something completely.

“All matter is made up of tiny particles (atoms) arranged in different ways.” Now if the Bible had relayed something like that, and taken some pains to do so, now that would have impressed me.

Well, personally, I think “love your neighbor as yourself” has far more pragmatic value, and is thus far more compelling as a theistic dictum, but that’s just me. I mean, we could get by without knowing about atoms or the speed of light. We can’t get by without basic human relations. Still, I understand that different people are impressed by different things.

…if an insight in physics was announced tomorrow that the quantum vaccuum leads us to conclude in an infinite regression of universes, would you find more persuasive the Eastern religions that have held that it’s “turtles all the way down?”

It would depend on several factors, among them, for example, the strength of data, and the validity of any conclusions drawn from that data. Generally, however, I would remain skeptical. No matter how persuasive a single insight in theoretical physics might be, it doesn’t trump solid empirical evidence that also seems to testify against “turtles all the way down.”

Hendy,

If I click on a post in your linked index and it just brings up the index page again, does that mean it’s not written yet? Several links don’t seem to go anywhere…

Eh, my mistake. I recently imported my old blog into the Wordpress framework and it didn’t go exactly seamless. All the links at the old blog are still up, feel free to use them until I get everything straightened out. Thanks for pointing that out.

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Joe Wilson August 17, 2010 at 12:25 am

So Craig has such a low opinion of his integrity, character and worth he states it is perfectly correct for him to be brutally killed. Merely because he personally believes his god figment is morally justified to kill him, that does nothing to prove his claim of a god concoction existence.

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TaiChi August 17, 2010 at 1:23 am

Nothing in the assertion of an omnipotent God necessarily precludes the existence of evil. The burden is on the person making that argument to demonstrate that it is so. ” ~ cl

It’s been done. I’m still waiting for an adequate rebuttal.

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cl August 17, 2010 at 1:41 am

TaiChi,

No offense, but it hasn’t been done at all. As you yourself said when I responded the first time,

…the free beings which God creates do not need to uphold the moral purity of his original creation.

You continued,

…my counter to that is that God need not make free beings who corrupt the world, instead he can make free beings who are perfectly good (like him),

My counter to that is twofold:

1) That God need not make free beings who corrupt the world is not a rescuing premise of any POE argument. It’s simply an afterthought that, to me, seems predicated by a lack of response to what you’ve already conceded: that the free beings which God creates do not need to uphold the moral purity of his original creation.

2) Perfectly good beings are not free.

Then again, that was a few months ago, and I’m open to the possibility that I might not be giving the argument a fair shake. If you think that’s the case, well… my question remains: what in the assertion of an omnipotent God necessarily precludes the existence of evil?

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Joe Wilson August 17, 2010 at 1:57 am

Luke repeated incessantly that no atheist offers counter arguments to the Morality and Free Will defense. Yet he also failed to present example.

It cannot be shown that people behave more immorally w/o a belief in god. In fact, much evidence abides the opposite holds true. Detailed biblical account of commanded and executed slaughter, mass murder, genocide, fratricide, infanticide, slavery, stoning, etc. cannot be explained away and justified as non literal.

The majority of murderers, violent criminals and child molesters in American prisons were raised christian. Adolph Hitler stated in documented speeches his genocide was for the purpose of serving god’s intended wishes.

What is considered by many to be moral behavior has been extremely exhibited by many entirely devoid of Divine Command. Humans are a communal species, which naturally requires the emergence of a morality basis for right and wrong.

In regards to conscious thought, rational evaluation and reasoning, Materialists and even most Dualist will agree with the evidence that if mental events occur, then a certain kind of arrangement of matter has come about. Theists and Plantinga reject such, confined to contention that god and spirits are desembodied minds devoid of a physical brain.

A spirit has absolutely zero detectable physical existence or presence. How can theists be so sure that a spirit or spirits affect consistent routinely reliable physical consequence within our brains? There is no need to introduce and postulate an unsupportable extra perplexity in attempt to help explain the already sufficiently perplexing and beautiful world.

The argument is faulty. If the mind was constructed by an omnipotent spirit, there is no necessity to place any more reliance on it than if it had been formed by millions of year of natural selection. No valid, justifiable nor proven reason can be given. It is genetic fallacy to assume the origin of the mind has anything to do w/ it’s reliability. As opposed to it’s development.

Numerous objection defeats the Free Will defense. Natural Evils, Evil outcomes from non evil decisions, possible guarantee of goodness, differing character, varying circumstance, Persuasive and Coercive Intervention, Collectivizing, and more. These arguments are easily found.

In spite of the lacking support, claim regarding objective morality is somewhat of a moot, irrelevant, and failing point to begin with. Blindly asserting objective morality derivation in no way takes us closer to the factual proving of god’s existence.

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TaiChi August 17, 2010 at 2:10 am

1) That God need not make free beings who corrupt the world is not a rescuing premise of any POE argument. It’s simply an afterthought that, to me, seems predicated by a lack of response to what you’ve already conceded: that the free beings which God creates do not need to uphold the moral purity of his original creation.” ~ cl

Oh dear. No, it’s not an afterthought: it’s an explanation. Given that my argument from evil is sound, it must undercut any potential theodicy. My comments attempt to explain why it would undercut the free-will defense. I say there that it undercuts the free-will defense because, as in the case of God, free-will can be paired with a perfectly good moral character.

..the free beings which God creates do not need to uphold the moral purity of his original creation.” ~ cl

Free beings, per se, do not. But God would not create merely free beings, since these would bring avoidable evil into the world, but would instead create morally perfect free beings.

2) Perfectly good beings are not free.” ~ cl

Well, that’s very heterodox of you. But it still isn’t an adequate response to my argument, since one of the premises says that God instantiates all good-making properties. Free-will would then not count as a good-making property, and so it could not be appealed to in an explanation of evil.

what in the assertion of an omnipotent God necessarily precludes the existence of evil?” ~cl

I’m confused by your questioning of the obvious, unless you mean to imply that you don’t think God is omnibenevolent as well as being omnipotent. If that’s the case, then the argument from evil is not addressed to you.

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Eric August 17, 2010 at 3:15 am

“Luke repeated incessantly that no atheist offers counter arguments to the Morality and Free Will defense. Yet he also failed to present example.
It cannot be shown that people behave more immorally w/o a belief in god. In fact, much evidence abides the opposite holds true.”

You’ve unintentionally made Luke’s point for him.

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rvkevin August 17, 2010 at 3:39 am

I’ve listened to Craig many times. Since I know a lot more about Cosmology than he does, he just sounds idiotic on that point. Luke, are you a debate judge? Do you score it?

I’m interested in what other people have to say about this. If an atheist fails to respond to an incorrect statement, is that a point to the theist? It seems like other people do this, but I don’t. After all, it’s not like we need to view the debate with the comprehension of a five year old.

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 5:36 am

Joe Wilson,

It cannot be shown that people behave more immorally w/o a belief in god. In fact, much evidence abides the opposite holds true.

Um, re-read Luke’s post, esp the part about morality. You’re making the very mistake that most atheists make. The theist contention is not that belief in God is necessary for objective morality, but that the existence of God is necessary for objective morality.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 5:52 am

CL: “Which ‘bad ones’ [predictions] are you alluding to?”

Stuff like the link below. You know, all the things that Bronze Age goatherders would think about the world, as opposed to knowledge that’s been processed through science or handed down by a God who is omniscient.

http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/The_Bible_and_Science

Highlights, of course, are the earth as immovable with corners, the explanation for different languages, etc.

CL: “Well, personally, I think “love your neighbor as yourself” has far more pragmatic value, and is thus far more compelling as a theistic dictum, but that’s just me. I mean, we could get by without knowing about atoms or the speed of light. We can’t get by without basic human relations. Still, I understand that different people are impressed by different things.”

I thought we were talking about knowledge and predictions in the Bible. Way to twist the topic in an attempt to score some quick points. And love the insinuation that humans didn’t know how to cooperate until Jesus spoke a proverb, thus ignoring the widespread examples of the Golden Rule in other cultures that predate the NT.

CL: “No matter how persuasive a single insight in theoretical physics might be, it doesn’t trump solid empirical evidence that also seems to testify against “turtles all the way down.”

For the sake of argument imagine that the evidence and explanation from physics for an infinite regression of universes was lock solid. What is the solid empirical evidence that we have that an infinite regression cannot exist? (I can only think of my inability to comprehend the idea, which I don’t consider to be empirical evidence.) And would this conclusion from physics really make you consider your faith in the Bible? I think not, because I imagine there’s plenty there to support an infinite regression if Christians find the need later to go look for it.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 6:06 am

TaiChi, very sharp comments. I’m reading your blog post now and am glad to know about it. Thanks!

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 6:18 am

Martin: The theist contention is not that belief in God is necessary for objective morality, but that the existence of God is necessary for objective morality.

When an appropriate actually deity shows up, it might stop being an unsupported assertion.

What amazes me is that Christian theists are so quick to claim they know what their unfathomable and illusive deity actually thinks and why. This is probably because they have an active imagination and don’t see where the voices of inspiration are actually coming from.

As it did not get enough notice earlier, I’ll quote this gem from James Farrell (emphasis added);

James Farrell: Craig’s objective morality argument is the most brazenly circular of his five. He drags the concept of objectivity into an area where it has no agreed application, without pausing for a moment to acknowledge the pitfalls involved. He practically defines objective morality as rules laid down by God. Then he asserts that its existence is self-evident.

Instead of justifying the claim, he is content to bully his opponent by daring him or her to disagree that child rape or gassing Jews is objectively wrong. I wish one of his antagonists would just ask him if homosexual relations is objectively wrong, or factory farming. He couldn’t possibly argue that moral truths regarding those issues are revealed by introspection.

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 7:01 am

I wish one of his antagonists would just ask him if homosexual relations is objectively wrong, or factory farming.

And his answer would be that, as with the physical world, we are slowly discovering the moral world. We now know that pedophilia is wrong. We now know that slavery is wrong. We now know that Jim Crow laws are wrong (most of us, anyway). And just as some people think Jim Crow laws are still good, some people also think the sun revolves around the earth.

We disagree with Craig on homosexuality, and his answer would be that it’s the same as disagreements on whether the Copenhagen or Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 7:12 am

Yet, going with James Farrell’s set up, Craig’s bullying tactic would be shown for what it is.

James Farrell: He practically defines objective morality as rules laid down by God. Then he asserts that its existence is self-evident.

Instead of justifying the claim …

[ bullying stumped ]

What’s he going to say next?

Would he offer anything to justify his claim?

I think that’s what James Farrell was getting at, and it’s a damn good point.

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 7:15 am

@cl

“I don’t think you did, though, that depends on how you define “objective moral source.””

It was overstated. I made an argument for it. You are welcome to dispute the argument, but it is there.

“I would agree with you there, but I would disagree that yours is a fair analogy. Nothing in the assertion of an omnipotent God necessarily precludes the existence of evil. The burden is on the person making that argument to demonstrate that it is so. To date, I haven’t seen it, and have never really been persuaded by POE arguments. I think most people are persuaded by them because of their strong emotional appeal. I like to argue in the freezer.”

I choose to make two things obviously non compatible as an example so that no one would question the compatibility of the two crazy things in the example and my analogy would communicate my point effectively, which is that both evil and God could be false propositions, and the problem of evil could still be a way of ruling out one or the other.

I do however find, many theists, like yours and Craig’s, blatant attempt to pretend to be so stupid that you don’t know the definition of omnibenevolent, even though you guys are the ones who made up the word in the first place.

1) Human beings in general, when they get angry, are less likely to think rationally about matters and more likely to exert physical violence.
2) Physical violence without rational thought is inferior to with rational thought. (If you accept most theists beliefs of what is “good” and “bad”)
3) God possess the ability to change 1) without affecting any other aspect of the world. (Assuming he existed, and was omnipotent.)

Therefore: The world could be strictly “better” than it is now, with less unwarranted violence, but God doesn’t do that, because:

a) He’s an asshole.
b) He’s incompetent.
c) He doesn’t exist.

You could also replace “People get angry and irrational” with “Some people derive physical pleasure from torturing others” “Some people prefer their sexual partners to not be consenting” or “Tsunami’s kill a bunch of people for no reason.”

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 7:17 am

Note that the issue of factory farming has not been addressed, though both issues of sexual relations and where the food comes from are only two examples of many that are clearly not self-evident.

Then there’s this problem;

The theist contention is not that belief in God is necessary for objective morality, but that the existence of God is necessary for objective morality.

When an appropriate actually deity shows up, it might stop being an unsupported assertion.

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lukeprog August 17, 2010 at 7:39 am

Joe Wilson,

As Eric said, you made my point for me. You misunderstood the moral argument, as I said many other atheists do in my original post.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 7:59 am

Hmm. I think that Farrell’s right but that pointing out that Craig bears the burden of proof for his claim will leave most Christians in the room unfazed because they’ll agree that some things “just feel right or wrong” and that this is sufficient for them to agree with Craig’s premise. A discussion of moral reality is technical, and I think it’s a losing one for the atheist. I’d advocate mentioning in passing that Craig’s premise that objective moral values exist is unsupported by the evidence, but then move on to demonstrate how objective moral values can exist without God.

I’d try something like this:

Me (in response to Craig’s premise that objective morality can exist only with God): “Objective moral values exist in the same way that objective tastiness exists. We all agree that some things taste better than others, but there is tremendous variety in what kinds of foods and cuisines we find tastiest. We have all seen the pictures of Asian markets, where eels, insects, etc. are all proudly on display, and the foods are bought up by the eager crowds. This despite the fact that those of us raised on Western cuisine find these foods to appear revolting.

“What is objective about tastiness is that we all need some protein, some fat, and some carbohydrates, as well as some essential vitamins. We need these things because they are good for us, in that they help us survive. I would say that morality exists objectively in the exact same way — that what is good moral behavior is that which, on balance and when applied evenly, helps us all survive. Bad moral behavior does the opposite. In that sense, objective morality exists in exactly the same way that objective tastiness does, and neither requires any God.”

I’m just curious if anybody thinks this would be a good response to have on hand in a debate against theist who raises the moral argument for God — it it works logically, and if seems like it would be persuasive to the average audience member.

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 8:05 am

Tony,

But tastiness is not objective. What tastes sweet to one person might taste sour to another. There is not taste “out there” that we perceive. If someone doesn’t think pizza tastes good, then I would just have to answer “to each his own.” I might not be able to understand it, but it’s all just a subjective matter.

Compare with moral realism. “It is morally wrong to rape and kill you women.” If someone says this is false, many (most?) of us would probably agree that that person is not expressing just his opinion but is morally bankrupt, and quite simply wrong.

I.e., you can’t be wrong about whether pizza tastes good, but you can be wrong about whether it’s morally OK to rape and kill young women.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 8:09 am

Martin,

I agree that you find my argument unpersuasive (and that was part of my question, so thanks for that), but your reasoning for doing so is very easy to punch holes in.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 8:11 am

Along those lines, there are psychopaths who indeed have a different ‘moral sense’ just as some kids hate broccoli. In both cases, it frequently a physiological source that drives the reactions or actions.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 8:12 am

(i.e.; no supernatural entity required.)

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 8:14 am

@Martin

Do you have any reason besides your inner intuitions to believe that raping and killing women is wrong?

If not, then how do you claim an objective standard when other people have different inner intuitions than you, like some people who have inner intuitions that is is perfectly fine to rape and kill women?

If you can’t point to anything besides your own feelings, then that’s the very definition of subjective.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 8:15 am

Hermes,

Yeah, I thought about psychopaths when I was considering what tack to take, but I imagine that the theist would point out (correctly) that a failure by some to perceive a thing is not an indication that the thing itself does not exist — just because some people are color blind does not mean that the color green does not objectively (as defined by its wavelength) exist. So I think that’s a problematic response.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 8:26 am

Tony, agreed, though they can’t have it both ways. On the one hand that we have a moral sense, and on the other that only their deity has the ‘true moral sense’.

I’ll grant Martin that he’s almost right when he wrote (explaining Craig/’a Christian’ position)” as with the physical world, we are slowly discovering the moral world”.

It is true that better moral decisions are can be metaphorically discovered through great effort.

It is not true that morality is like an object independent from the actors, or that it is some kind of ideal Platonic form that makes up the basis for reality.

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 9:10 am

@Tony

It’s not just that some people have no moral sense. It’s that most people’s moral sense is entirely different from yours, but feel the same things about different subjects.

People in Saudi Arabia don’t lack a moral sense (Well everyone lacks a moral sense, they just think they have one as much as you), they just have a moral sense that tells them that murdering their own daughter is a moral duty. They feel exactly the same way about murdering their own daughter as you do about paying your debts.

It’s not a lack of anything, it’s that a “Moral sense” is really just “a certain part of my brain feels a certain way about this subject due to how it has been structured.” And so it is not a surprise at all that different people feel different ways about different actions. Where if morals where absolute, you would expect people to not be able to feel the exact way you do about not killing people, about killing people.

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 9:21 am

Do you have any reason besides your inner intuitions to believe that raping and killing women is wrong?

Do you have any reason besides your inner intuitions that other minds exist? No one has ever developed a successful argument that they do, and so to support such a premise I might be reduced to nothing more than appeal to collective intuition. “Other minds do exist, and deep down we all know it.”

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 9:22 am

Hermes,

But if moral values don’t exist Platonically, then how is it possible that we “discover” them?

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 9:23 am

Kaelik,

I agree with you. I think that pretty much everyone does have a moral sense, that it’s part of our brain structure, etc. That is my point with tastiness — that we are equipped to find foods tasty or repulsive, but that our culture is what affects how this sense develops, exactly as it does with morality. But both senses could, I think, be considered objective in that these senses are trained toward a goal of gaining a survival advantage based on evolutionary principles. Just as we can all agree that a diet that contains no fat is objectively bad (because without fat we will die), we can all agree that a morality that prescribes killing anyone you see is bad (because we will all die). This seems to offer a way to attain a sense of objective morality without God, and it also, I think, better explains both morality and tastiness.

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Patrick August 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

Atheists lose debates because they don’t understand the rules of the game. They enter intending to have a philosophical discussion or an academic debate, and don’t recognize that what they’re really going to encounter is more like two presidential candidates debating on CNN.

They need to take the gloves off, or give the mic to someone who will. For example, when William Lane Craig makes his argument from objective morality, don’t try to argue whether objective morality exists. If you do that you’re a moron. You’re not going to win the debate by doing that.

Point out that Craig believes that God sometimes orders his followers to slaughter children with swords, and that if God gives that order, its morally obligatory to do so. Paint him as a human monster. Drive a wedge between the audience’s identification with Craig as “one of us,”
and then move to the fact that any definition of “objective morality” that lets you stab a child to death probably isn’t the objective morality the audience believes in.

And once you’ve done so, move to an explanation of morality as a result of empathy and kindness.

THAT is how you win debates. Its not about Plantinga. Its not about playing the game on the terms the theist wants you to stay within, while they do not. Its about playing the same game as them.

Debate to WIN, or don’t debate.

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cl August 17, 2010 at 9:32 am

TaiChi,

No, it’s not an afterthought: it’s an explanation.

I don’t mean to be pesky, but it is not an explanation. An explanation explains why a certain state of affairs is so. Your observation that “God could have created otherwise” explains precisely nothing. It is a statement about what you deem necessary [or perhaps preferrable] given God’s claimed attributes. That is not an explanation, but something like an afterthought, said in response to my objection.

…free-will can be paired with a perfectly good moral character.

What do you mean by that? Do you mean that a being can both 1) possess free will, and 2) only have an inclination towards the good? If so, I disagree. If not, feel free to clarify.

God would not create merely free beings, since these would bring avoidable evil into the world, but would instead create morally perfect free beings.

Again, what do you mean by “morally perfect free beings?”

I’m confused by your questioning of the obvious, unless you mean to imply that you don’t think God is omnibenevolent as well as being omnipotent.

Yeah, well… people were confused by the questioning of the obvious in regards to geocentrism, too. If your closing point is that your position is “obvious” then I’m even more secure in my disagreement than before.

Tony Hoffman,

I thought we were talking about knowledge and predictions in the Bible. Way to twist the topic in an attempt to score some quick points.

Oh, my bad, I didn’t realize this was the type of exchange where I’m not allowed to make an aside without being accused of something. We are talking about knowledge and predictions in the Bible, and I’m not trying to twist the topic at all: I’m just pointing out that I don’t see the same value in your assertion as you do. A statement about atoms in the Bible would only be compelling to people like yourself living since science, and would have had effectively zero value from the time that statement was written until now. Thus, I see little incentive from God’s POV in including such a statement.

…love the insinuation that humans didn’t know how to cooperate until Jesus spoke a proverb, thus ignoring the widespread examples of the Golden Rule in other cultures that predate the NT.

I didn’t make that insinuation; you did. In general, I think the less assumptions and insinuations a rationalist makes, the better, but proceed as you wish.

For the sake of argument imagine that the evidence and explanation from physics for an infinite regression of universes was lock solid.

It couldn’t be lock solid without overwriting the laws of thermodynamics that currently imply any sort of “bounce back” is implausible. You are essentially asking me to believe I have a third hand for the sake of argument. I can’t do that. OTOH, if you’re want to posit the whole case [i.e. new insight, new laws of thermodynamics, justification for making truth claims beyond Planck time, etc.], then, yes: I would be scratching my head a bit.

…would this conclusion from physics really make you consider your faith in the Bible? I think not, because I imagine there’s plenty there to support an infinite regression if Christians find the need later to go look for it.

Oh, well there you go. You’ve apparently got me all figured out. At this point, I see no point.

Kaelik,

You are welcome to dispute the argument, but it is there.

I’m interested, if you’re willing to define up front what you mean by “objective moral values.” I’d like to argue on your turf.

I do however find, many theists, like yours and Craig’s, blatant attempt to pretend to be so stupid that you don’t know the definition of omnibenevolent, even though you guys are the ones who made up the word in the first place.

Oh come on, now you’re being silly. Neither I nor Craig invented the term omnibenevolent, and I’m not pretending to be so stupid that I don’t know the definition. Rather, I’m asking you to justify some of the assumptions you are apparently smuggling into your definition of omnibenevolence. If you want to respond with snark, whatever, that’s your deal, but back in the land of rational argumentation, the burden of proof remains on you to show how the existence of suffering is incompatible or logically inconsistent with an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God.

You have not done so.

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 9:55 am

Patrick,

For example, when William Lane Craig makes his argument from objective morality, don’t try to argue whether objective morality exists. If you do that you’re a moron. You’re not going to win the debate by doing that.

What you’re doing is exactly what Luke warns against. If your opponent presents this:

If P then Q
P
Therefore Q

And you start talking about X and Y, then he will correctly call you out for presenting a red herring.

If someone is a moron for sticking to the argument in question, then…. wow.

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Hendy August 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

@cl (and TaiChi):

Do you mean that a being can both 1) possess free will, and 2) only have an inclination towards the good? If so, I disagree. If not, feel free to clarify.

This one has often puzzled me. Forgive me if this is absolutely ridiculous, but am I said to have free will with respect to my desire to jump 30 feet in the air, fly, rearrange matter, communicate telepathically, or see through walls?

Would it be fair to say that we could be created such that we were free within our physical and mental capabilities such that we were free within the confines of not being able to do evil?

To cry foul would seem to also cry foul on us not being free with respect to my other examples which comprise things I want to do but are limited by physical and mental capabilities. I also feel fairly restricted on things like killing and eating poop, just to throw in some that might be more “pure will” related. I could do them, but the ideas are so repulsive as to feel outside of my free will.

So, given these I see at least two alternatives:
1) We would be limited physically/mentally from committing evil but would be wholly free otherwise
2) We could at least have our desire to do evil lessened to that of the typical human’s desire to murder or eat feces

Both strike me as an improvement that do not violate free will. If you think #1 is a violation, surely #2 is not.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 10:02 am

CL to Tai Chi: “Yeah, well… people were confused by the questioning of the obvious in regards to geocentrism, too.”

CL to me: “Oh, my bad, I didn’t realize this was the type of exchange where I’m not allowed to make an aside without being accused of something.”

CL to Kaelik: “If you want to respond with snark, whatever, that’s your deal, but back in the land of rational argumentation, the burden of proof remains on you to show how the existence of suffering is incompatible or logically inconsistent with an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God.”

Right. It’s everyone else who’s snarky.

Psy-cho-log-i-cal pro-jec-shen. Why does it always seem to accompany the theist commenter?

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Hendy August 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

@cl:

I’m just pointing out that I don’t see the same value in your assertion as you do. A statement about atoms in the Bible would only be compelling to people like yourself living since science, and would have had effectively zero value from the time that statement was written until now.

cl, I absolutely see the idea… but I think it’s false. Surely all prophecies necessarily have to have no value to the present, for they will only materialize in the future and thus prove their predictive nature. Correct if I’m wrong here. I just don’t see that the prophecies have to be limited to being valuable in the time written, as it seems that the entire value is null until the future time when an occurrence can be connected to it.

Given this, I’d say we’re living in precisely the time when a kick-ass set of prophecies would be extremely helpful. Surely if the Bible contained better explanations of the human mind, atomic substructures, background radiation in the universe, or any other number of things that would have had value here and now, to us.

Better yet, since human civilization is to change and the Bible is to remain static and pertinent for all future generations… why not a book of prophecies for each future age? Let there be many prophecies that have value in each time frame, thus serving to continually re-establish the Bible as predictive and reliable time after time?

Sure, that’s far fetched. Even so, prophecies strike me as essentially serving the purpose of displaying god’s omniscience and anointing upon his prophets for the sake of aiding belief and trust in him. Correct me if you have a different view on their purpose. If so, prophecies have their true value in the future (after their telling), and I see no reason to preference the ancients over us. Any culture in the future strikes me as equally worthy to have a prophesy spoken for them to be validated by discoveries in that future time and thus foster belief in god.

As I said, a continual stream of these such that every generation has both prophesies established, prophesies in the act of being validated, and prophesies completely not understood would seem a super awesome way to go about this whole area.

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cl August 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

Tony Hoffman,

It’s everyone else who’s snarky.

I never said that. I snark, too, sometimes. Other times, I eschew it entirely and try to stay freezing cold. It just depends on the day. Still,

Yeah, well… people were confused by the questioning of the obvious in regards to geocentrism, too.

That’s not snark. It’s entirely appropriate for me to point out that “X is obvious” has proven deceptive time and time again. I’m sure you agree.

Oh, my bad, I didn’t realize this was the type of exchange where I’m not allowed to make an aside without being accused of something.

You’re correct about that one. That is snark, and I did it to mock your insinuation that I was “trying to score points” by “twisting” things around. Would you have responded more receptively had I phrased my disapproval differently?

You’re also correct about my comment to Kaelik: the bolded part is snark, and I did it to mock Kaelik’s insinuation that I’m “pretending to be so stupid” that I don’t understand the meaning of a basic word.

Hendy,

…am I said to have free will with respect to my desire to jump 30 feet in the air, fly, rearrange matter, communicate telepathically, or see through walls?

I would say yes, you are free to will to do those things, regardless of your [in]ability to do them. Part of my definition of free will entails the [theoretical] freedom to act on any desire.

Would it be fair to say that we could be created such that we were free within our physical and mental capabilities such that we were free within the confines of not being able to do evil?

I don’t think so, because then we wouldn’t be free to do evil, but I could be misunderstanding what you’re actually saying.

We would be limited physically/mentally from committing evil but would be wholly free otherwise

I see “limited” and “wholly free” as mutually exclusive. Don’t you?

We could at least have our desire to do evil lessened to that of the typical human’s desire to murder or eat feces

Sure, just as God might have chosen not create at all. However, the problem I see with that is, to whatever degree our desires have been lessened, to that degree, we’re not wholly free.

Correct if I’m wrong here. I just don’t see that the prophecies have to be limited to being valuable in the time written, as it seems that the entire value is null until the future time when an occurrence can be connected to it…

Correct me if you have a different view on their purpose. If so, prophecies have their true value in the future (after their telling), and I see no reason to preference the ancients over us.

I agree. My point was that on the whole, I deem “love your neighbor” as more pragmatic than “matter is composed of small particles.” It was an aside included to show that persuasiveness is in the eye of the beholder. I didn’t mean for Tony to interpret that as an attempt at sleight-of-hand. More, when Tony said “knowledge or predictions,” I wasn’t necessarily thinking prophecy at all. I was thinking more along the lines of “science in the Bible,” or something like that.

Of course, we can talk either or both of those things. If you’d like to pick up where Tony chose to leave off, feel free.

…a continual stream of these such that every generation has both prophesies established, prophesies in the act of being validated, and prophesies completely not understood would seem a super awesome way to go about this whole area.

Well, I’m hesitant about the “every generation” clause, but I tend to believe that the Bible contains exactly what you mention. When I look, I find some prophecies that seem established, some that seem in the process of being established, and some that seem completely not understood.

I’m just wary of the whole prophecy thing, because such discussions can easily get bogged down in differences of interpretation.

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Reginald Selkirk August 17, 2010 at 11:00 am

2. Evil exists(something is really evil).

I like this argument because if premise 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.
If premise 2 is true, than objective moral values do exist…”

Notice the freewheeling switch from “evil exists (or not)” to “objective evil exists.”

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

@cl

“If you want to respond with snark, whatever, that’s your deal, but back in the land of rational argumentation, the burden of proof remains on you to show how the existence of suffering is incompatible or logically inconsistent with an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God.
You have not done so.”

Yes, I did do so. Literally right after the part you quote I pretended that you were too stupid to understand what the words mean, and spelled it out specifically in argument form. You just ignored that because it completely undermines your evasion attempt.

Sorry, it’s there in black and white, everyone can read exactly why an omnibenevolent omnipotent deity would create a different world than this one. I spelled it out all clear and everything. There are further evasions, but claiming that I’m not engaging in rational argument because you specifically choose to pretend you can’t read my rational argument is not one of them.

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Reginald Selkirk August 17, 2010 at 11:09 am

Compare with moral realism. “It is morally wrong to rape and kill you women.” If someone says this is false, many (most?) of us would probably agree that that person is not expressing just his opinion but is morally bankrupt, and quite simply wrong.

I.e., you can’t be wrong about whether pizza tastes good, but you can be wrong about whether it’s morally OK to rape and kill young women.

Saying that objective morality does not exist is not the same as saying that anything goes, or that one version of morality is as good as any other. Consider an evolutionary explanation of morality. All human beings share an evolutionary history, and relatively recent common ancestry, so even if morality is subjective, it would be surprising if there is not considerable accord between human beings on what is moral.

Consider a group of people sitting around talking about the morality of eating meat, and the range of opinions which might be considered acceptable.

Now consider a pride of lions sitting around having the same discussion, or a herd of antelope. These three groups have different biology and different evolutionary history, and thus will share moral values within their group that are not shared between groups.

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Reginald Selkirk August 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

Craig and other sophisticated theists argue for generic theism, then connect it with the Bible via Jesus. But this is still a separate issue from Biblical literalism. I don’t see why someone can’t believe in the Biblical God and simultaneously believe that the Bible was written by human authors with all the petty squabbling that comes along with that.

As Wes Morriston puts it: people like Craig are confusing fallible mankind’s written account of God’s revelation with the revelation itself.

This immediately opens up the non-literal believer to charges of cherry-picking. If the Bible contains errors, then by what standards do you choose which passages to believe, and which not to believe?

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cl August 17, 2010 at 11:24 am

Kaelik,

You haven’t done so. Further, you accuse me of evasion when I’ve twice asked for you to define the terms you’re throwing around, such that we might actually have a fruitful discussion, and you choose not to reply [or if you did define the term, I missed it, and apologize]. If you don’t want to define the words you’re throwing around, whatever, but don’t accuse me of evasion. I’ve done as much as I can with the limited argument you’ve given.

I choose to make two things obviously non compatible as an example so that no one would question the compatibility of the two crazy things in the example and my analogy would communicate my point effectively,

IOW, I purposely constructed a rhetorical device to help support my point. I’m not persuaded.

Regarding your “1-2-3-a-b-c” attempt, none of it shows that the existence of suffering is logically inconsistent with the existence of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God. You simply assert that “God could have created otherwise” but that point was never being contested.

Sorry, it’s there in black and white,

Yes, I submit that such is precisely the problem: your argument is all in black and white, when in reality situations are often nuanced with color. That God could have made a bunch of robots who never do evil [or choose less evil, or however you want to phrase it] is besides the point.

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Patrick August 17, 2010 at 11:53 am

Martin- Someone is a moron if they don’t recognize the terms of the debate, and lose as a result. I’m strongly convinced that the reason that atheists “lose” debates with theists isn’t because the theists out-argue them philosophically, its because the atheist doesn’t understand the nature of the game that’s being played.

Look, can you at least recognize that when debating presidential candidates systematically avoid answering questions directly and instead advance the messages that they want to get across, that they are engaging in the game that’s been set before them? And that if one candidate acted as candidates generally do while the other took the gotcha questions posed by the other side seriously, the former would win and the latter would lose?

Atheist/theist debates are not quite as bad as presidential debates. But they do have their own set of rules.

I would suggest that the way to win is to do something like the following.

1. Sever the emotional rapport between the audience and your opponent. Chances are he’s got the advantage from the very beginning in this regard, and you need to counteract it. This means acting to emphasize places in which your opponent’s theological commitments put him in opposition to the religious and moral commitments of the audience. For example, Craig thinks (or says he thinks) its ok to murder children if God tells you to, and he thinks that God really does tell us to do that sometimes. Most people disagree with this. Use this fact. Don’t just launch into it for no reason, but when it becomes relevant (say, Craig argues for objective morality), go for it.

2. Call out internal contradictions in your opponent’s position, or internal contradictions between your opponent’s position and the overall ideology he is allegedly defending, even if they’re not directly relevant. For example, Craig sometimes argues that the reason that so many people were born without ever knowing the gospel, and therefore are likely in hell according to his belief structure, may be that God made sure that all kinds of people who were incapable of believing in God were born in the places where the gospel wasn’t, since they were doomed anyways. If you don’t think the audience believes in predestination, bring this up! Even if its not directly relevant. Because it IS directly relevant to the question of whether he’s defending the actual beliefs of the audience.

3. Indict your opponent directly. For example, if your opponent uses the “they wouldn’t die for a lie” argument, the theist typically includes in the list of people who allegedly wouldn’t have died for a lie several people who either didn’t die for their religion, didn’t have a chance to recant, wouldn’t have been helped if they recanted, or who had no first hand knowledge of the truth or falsity of their religion. You should not only point this out, you should also point out that your opponent undoubtedly knew that the individuals listed weren’t honest evidence of his argument. Point out the implication that has for how your audience should view your opponent’s arguments, and how they should evaluate his factual claims.

4. Call out the ways in which your opponent has stacked the debate. For example, the inference to the best available explanation automatically discounts the possibility of “I don’t know,” or “I don’t know yet,” or “I’m working on it.” And that means it literally discounts science. Don’t argue about what the best explanation is, that’s just playing their game. Argue about whether the game is even a good game. For example, if someone makes a first cause argument, don’t begin by discussing first causes. Discuss other arguments of this type that have been used throughout history (where does rain come from, must be gods, etc). Discuss how they have uniformly failed. Discuss WHY they’ve failed. Once you’ve got the audience on your side regarding what is essentially the fallacy of the argument from ignorance, THEN go on to actually discuss first causes.

Move at right angles to your opponent. Undercut the audience’s faith in him. Only answer arguments once you’ve either got the audience thinking in your frame of reference, or at least once they’re no longer reflexively in your opponent’s. Accept that you have the harder task, because your audience is probably theistic, and recognize that severing that rapport between the theist and their champion on stage is a big part of what you need to do to win.

Or else don’t play. Just debate in writing if you’re not willing to play the game. The rules in writing are different, and you’ll have a better chance.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Martin: But if moral values don’t exist Platonically, then how is it possible that we “discover” them?

Well, first off, nothing exists as a Platonic form. It’s a handy abstraction to grasp some subjects, but it’s not an explanation of reality on all levels let alone an actual core of reality itself. For example, genetics. We can explain specific biological traits through genetics, but we can’t explain how those are expressed in all situations, thus we need to understand more beyond genetics alone.

But to the specific point, we discover some things because that is the nature of reality regardless of if we are here or not. We discover other things because we have a need to figure out our own issues because we are here. Morals are in the later category.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Patrick, well said. The chess game is often played many moves ahead by the Christian theist with the social environment as the focus, not an earnest desire to reach a mutual conclusion on what facts are available and what meaning can be derived from them.

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Hendy August 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm

@cl:

Thanks for clarifying.

I would say yes, you are free to will to do those things, regardless of your [in]ability to do them. Part of my definition of free will entails the [theoretical] freedom to act on any desire.

However, the problem I see with that is, to whatever degree our desires have been lessened, to that degree, we’re not wholly free.

I see your points, though wonder, then, if we’re not wholly free to murder or eat poop, as we’re created with the referenced prohibitions of will/desire.

Perhaps it would help to clarify what it would mean to put acts of evil in the same category as jumping 30ft or telepathy. You say that I am free to hypothetically do them but am unable. Would free will be satisfied if evil was also in that category (I could theoretically do evil but was actually unable)?

I don’t see the difference. I also would think that if natural desires somehow reduce our state of being “wholly free,” that we aren’t wholly free. Or do you mean this only with respect to evil and not murder/eating feces? If not, then the fact exists: our desires have been lessened and thus we’re not wholly free.

Regarding the Bible, I’ll probably just leave that one aside. I think it could have had more convincing material present for any age with higher specificity that would have done worlds better at helping us know it was the inspired word of an omniscient being who knows the secret workings of the entire universe. As it stands, though, it’s like you said — people just tend to disagree about it.

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Patrick,

You’re talking about winning rhetorically, not rationally. Fine, if that’s what you want. This is indeed how Kent Hovind manages to win.

I’m more interested in the actual arguments themselves, not in winning over the audience.

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MauricXe August 17, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Tony Hoffman,

You said:

“This is the opposite of what we’d expect from a religion that claims to have grounded itself in an objective morality.”

Craig deals with this type of objection in his debate with Dr. Shook:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVjUlSvtgtw&p=EFF5BF39003F200C#t=20m

That link should take you right to the 20 min mark, which is where the question is asked.

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

@cl

“IOW, I purposely constructed a rhetorical device to help support my point. I’m not persuaded.”

1) I have no idea what you intend IOW to stand for here. 2) You are arguing a meaningless point. The analogy exists to demonstrate that the principle of non contradiction applied to the two things can demonstrate that we can be certain that they don’t exist together, even if it turns out later that neither exists.

The analogy is not supposed to be proof that the argument from evil is sound, only that believing evil doesn’t exist does not negate the force of the problem of evil in disputing most theistic deities if it is sound. A simple analogy cannot demonstrate the soundness of an argument, so yes, it doesn’t do that, but I also wasn’t trying.

“Regarding your “1-2-3-a-b-c” attempt, none of it shows that the existence of suffering is logically inconsistent with the existence of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God. You simply assert that “God could have created otherwise” but that point was never being contested.”

Once again. If you honestly can’t see how a god choosing a universe that is strictly worse off than a slightly different one that it could also create doesn’t demonstrate that it is not omnibenevolent then your inability to grasp the concept prevents anyone from having a meaningful conversation with you.

You resort to some sort of free will defense, because that’s your instinctual retreat after evasion, but that doesn’t apply, I specifically worded my critique such that it is in fact the obstruction of “free will” that I suggested god would remove. At no point did I suggest limiting human choices, making robots, or humans being less evil. Only that they be free to choose. But now you claim that God specifically limits free will in a way that causes more evil than would exist with free will because… He’s all good? Really? Do you even know what the term good means?

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Jason Vacare August 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

This was hugely helpful. Understanding the common back and forth you have portrayed of these arguments has served as a road map of both sides. I have just read summaries of both the responses to the problem of logical evil, and I look forward to digging into them deeper.

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Jason Vacare August 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I’m wondering, am I completely out of bounds to question what appears to be an equivalence between “choice” and “action” in Plantinga’s free will defense?

In reading (clumsily) the Transworld Depravity defense of the proposition “A world with morally free creatures producing only moral good is a world that can’t be created by an omnipotent being”, it seems to depend on the freedom to commit actions.

But the only trait that is required in this hypothetical world is freedom of morally evil choices. It seems that over-extending the concept of “choices” to include “actions” actually weakens the defense.

Perhaps the defense is correct in that an omnipotent being can’t create morally free beings that are only capable of morally good choices, but surely an omnipotent being can prevent the actions that are consequent to those choices? When a father decides to rape his daughter, why doesn’t an angel swoop down and prevent the action? The morally evil choice was already made, why would an omnipotent being allow the action to take place?

Again, I’m a novice to this kind of analysis. Is that question out of bounds or obviously flawed?

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Honestly Jacen, it’s one of those things that just happens to be confusing because free will doesn’t exist.

Lots of theists will claim that if you know an Angel will sweep down to stop you, you aren’t really free to decide. But of course, in reality, you aren’t free to decide, because your brain processes inputs and comes up with outputs, and even if a swooping angel doesn’t come in, you still have inputs into the decision that prevent your action that occur all the time in the real world.

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Addition: Transworld Depravity makes no sense because Free Will makes no sense, contra causal free will would make us all insane, and causal free will isn’t free. We have a perception of choice, but there really isn’t anything besides our perception of ourselves to give any evidence that it occurs.

The reason people believe in free will is the same reason they believe in objective morals, is the same reason they believe time is separate from space, we have evolved to perceive things a specific incorrect way because perceiving them correctly is not something we are capable of, but this is good enough to keep replicating.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Martin: I’m more interested in the actual arguments themselves, not in winning over the audience.

During a live and time restricted debate, the arguments are secondary to winning over the audience. That’s what Patrick was saying, and it’s a critical point.

Try and keep an audience for 12 hours over 2 days, going over very small issues in an open way.

Worse, I would expect that a full analysis of a complex issue would take up to a week or more if everyone involved were actually interested in learning themselves.

Debates, for an hour or two, aren’t geared toward an earnest and humble examination of the facts and a careful review of possibilities or probabilities. They can’t be mainly that. That’s why Patrick is right by emphasizing what he does.

Could they somewhat be that — an earnest and humble examination? Yes. Yet, the focus can’t be and won’t be that.

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Jason Vacare August 17, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Kaelik: As someone studying to be a cognitive scientist, I unsurprisingly agree with you. We are most likely all biological robots in a mechanistic universe. At least the data so far more strongly suggest this than any free will theory.

But I was more curious about the apparent equivalence of the two concepts from within the framework of his own argument. The defense seems to emphasize the importance of people who are morally free to make morally evil choices, but also is being used to explain why there are morally evil acts. It seems like there is a clear distinction between choices and acts that isn’t addressed anywhere that I have seen yet.

My current brain chemistry demands that I read more while I await a reply :)

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Jason Vacare August 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

@Kaelik: “contra causal free will would make us all insane, and causal free will isn’t free”

You have just given me two more concepts to go read up on. Thank you! Attacking the existence of free will is actually much more attractive when it comes to looking for weaknesses in this defense, but it seems like a much more uphill battle than finding problems within the argument itself.

Still, if the ideas you’ve just mentioned are easily digested, I may change my mind on that :)

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Patrick August 17, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Right. Here’s the conversation so far, as I see it:

Scientist/Atheist: I’m an expert in the big bang, in astrophysics, and in cosmology. My opponent knows nothing about these things. Why does everyone keep saying that I’m losing debates with theists about the first cause argument? Obviously I know more about it than they do, and the things I say are supported factually.

Philosopher: You’re losing because you’re philosophically unsophisticated, which is a fancy way of saying that you know a lot about the facts, but very little about your opponent’s nutty conspiracy theories. To win the debate you have to address your opponent’s arguments, not merely advance your own. If you understand your arguments AND your opponents, then you can win the debate.

And to this I add one more point.

Lawyer: Actually, “winning a debate” is generally measured by who the audience thinks won. And atheist/theist debates usually take place in front of a theistic audience. You will be laboring under a number of disadvantages, such as the rapport the audience will share with your opponent, the fact that many of them are attending specifically to enjoy seeing you get your ass kicked, and the fact that your opponent will be “speaking their language” and the audience will fill in many of the weak spots in your opponent’s arguments with things they already believe. If you want to win, and by win I mean “win” in the specific context as defined by the rules of the debate in which you’re engaging, you need to address these problems head on. I personally recommend breaking the rapport, making sure the emotional take on “who got their ass kicked” doesn’t label you as the loser, and emphasizing the aspects of your opponent’s arguments that are likely to be alien and unacceptable to the audience.

If you don’t like playing that game, then you shouldn’t be debating in this forum. Like it or not, there are rules and a socially defined concept of who “won.”

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Patrick August 17, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Oh, for what its worth, regarding the earlier conversation on Craig’s response to issues like the Canaanite genocide:

Craig answers this in a recording that I’ve heard, but no longer know where to find online. I’m sure you could hunt it down if you tried. The answer he gives is the perfect summation of his debating tactics. He throws out a scattershot answer in which he uses basically every apologetic, even those which contradict one another. For example, he goes with the “it didn’t happen historically so who cares” defense as a possibility, then moves on. He also uses the “maybe God didn’t really order it, the ancient Israelites just did it on their own” defense. And eventually he gets to the “its ok to murder babies if God says so” defense. If you pay attention, its clear that he believes the “its ok to murder babies of God says so” option (he’s a Biblical literalist when the chips are down), but his clear rhetorical intention is to offer all of these possibilities in order to give believers the opportunity to latch onto whichever one they find best enables them to remain Christian.

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cl August 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Patrick,

Salient comments.

Hendy,

…if we’re not wholly free to murder or eat poop, as we’re created with the referenced prohibitions of will/desire.

I believe we are wholly free to murder and eat poop. People do both [though the former far more often than the latter, in my experience]. In fact, that seemingly any desire can be modified is part of my objection to desirism: Fyfe asserts the existence of non-malleable desires, but reality suggests that all desires are malleable.

I would also disagree that we are “created with the referenced prohibitions of will/desire,” that is, if you were implying that aversions to murder / poop-eating are stock for human beings. Babies, naturally curious, often pick up a piece of poop and attempt to eat it. A boy, naturally curious, may stomp a frog’s life out just to see what happens. So I don’t think we have anything like “stock aversions” at play as regards murder and poop-eating.

Perhaps it would help to clarify what it would mean to put acts of evil in the same category as jumping 30ft or telepathy. You say that I am free to hypothetically do them but am unable. Would free will be satisfied if evil was also in that category (I could theoretically do evil but was actually unable)? I don’t see the difference.

Well, I actually said that you were free to will or desire to do them regardless of your [current] inability to do them. Still, yours is a great question, the kind that gave me a little nervous tremble in my tummy, to be honest. Let me try to clarify: regarding the ability to jump 30ft or communicate telepathically, I said that you have free will, because you can will or desire to do these things, even though you can’t jump 30 feet [without some sort of technological assistance], and even though you’ve probably not trained yourself to be able to communicate telepathically. It’s not that you are unable to do these things per se, just that you are unable to them at this current junction. Given the appropriate technology and/or training, you could fulfill those desires.

However, when you posit tossing evil in that category, it seems different to me, because you seem to be implying that “evil” [however differently we may define it aside] would be ontologically off-limits. It seems you describe a situation where no matter how hard we willed or desired, we could never do evil. To me, that would not be consistent with free will, as regards evil.

Even still, I’m not fully satisfied with my answer, but I appreciate the tough questions and I’m eager to hear what you thought of my attempt at a cogent response.

Lastly, I think at this point we ought to be really careful not to confuse freedom with free will [and I'm not saying that you have, just introducing a note of caution in an area where I've erred before].

Kaelik,

Sorry. “IOW” = “in other words.”

You are arguing a meaningless point. The analogy exists to demonstrate that the principle of non contradiction applied to the two things can demonstrate that we can be certain that they don’t exist together, even if it turns out later that neither exists.

That’s the meaningless point, as it was never in dispute. I don’t – nor have I ever – disputed that the principle of non-contradiction can be applied to demonstrate something can’t exist. For example, if it is true that I was in Los Angeles all day June 3rd, 2010, then it cannot be true that I was in Phoenix from June 1st – June 6th. That’s the law of non-contradiction successfully applied, and your “1-2-3-a-b-c” attempt is nowhere near that airtight.

You resort to some sort of free will defense, because that’s your instinctual retreat after evasion,

What evasion? Speaking of, I’ve now asked three times for you to define your terminology, and… crickets. Even still, I don’t accuse you of evasion. The reason is because I honestly have no idea why you’re not answering the question. That you’re not answering it doesn’t necessarily mean you are evading. That would be a misstep in logic, much like the one you make when you accuse me.

At no point did I suggest limiting human choices, making robots, or humans being less evil.

False. I can prove it right here:

1) Human beings in general, when they get angry, are less likely to think rationally about matters and more likely to exert physical violence.

2) Physical violence without rational thought is inferior to with rational thought. (If you accept most theists beliefs of what is “good” and “bad”)

3) God possess the ability to change 1) without affecting any other aspect of the world. (Assuming he existed, and was omnipotent.)

Therefore: The world could be strictly “better” than it is now, with less unwarranted violence, but God doesn’t do that, because:

a) He’s an asshole.

b) He’s incompetent.
c) He doesn’t exist.

When you say, “God possesses the ability to change 1,” you imply that God could have made humans less prone to violence due to irrational anger [IOW, humans being less evil]. I reply that God could have made humans with pink skin, but that God didn’t doesn’t mean God is omniblue. What’s your point?

If you honestly can’t see how a god choosing a universe that is strictly worse off than a slightly different one that it could also create doesn’t demonstrate that it is not omnibenevolent then your inability to grasp the concept prevents anyone from having a meaningful conversation with you.

Well then, you’ve got it all figured out, I guess. Apparently, the problem is entirely with me and we’ve nowhere else to go. Still, for the record, no: I honestly cannot see how the existence of suffering precludes the existence of an omnibenevolent God. The reason I cannot see that is because no compelling argument has ever been presented to convince me that such is true. If you can state your argument in a more compelling manner instead of just implying that I’m some dimwit who can’t see it, we might be able to get somewhere. If not, whatever. Cheers to something else.

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm

@cl

“That’s the meaningless point, as it was never in dispute. I don’t – nor have I ever – disputed that the principle of non-contradiction can be applied to demonstrate something can’t exist. For example, if it is true that I was in Los Angeles all day June 3rd, 2010, then it cannot be true that I was in Phoenix from June 1st – June 6th. That’s the law of non-contradiction successfully applied, and your “1-2-3-a-b-c” attempt is nowhere near that airtight.”

Hilarious, really. You are not the center of the universe. That analogy was not directed at you, that’s why it’s in a post that says “@Marcio.” You know the guy who said “I like this argument because if premisse 2 is false, than “the problem of evil” ends and that is not good for atheism.”

My argument about the problem of evil is a completely separate and entirely unrelated issue that only exists because you keep randomly hounding me about it like I think the problem of evil is important as anything other than a demonstration of how theists try to weasel out of the things they say about god as soon as they become inconvenient.

“When you say, “God possesses the ability to change 1,” you imply that God could have made humans less prone to violence due to irrational anger [IOW, humans being less evil]. I reply that God could have made humans with pink skin, but that God didn’t doesn’t mean God is omniblue. What’s your point?”

No, when I say that God possess the ability to change 1), I am saying that he could allow them to rationally choose evil or good instead of being a slave to chemicals coursing through their blood. They could still rationally choose evil. That there would be less evil is an intuitive judgement that I consider quite accurate, but is not important to the point.

“Still, for the record, no: I honestly cannot see how the existence of suffering precludes the existence of an omnibenevolent God. The reason I cannot see that is because no compelling argument has ever been presented to convince me that such is true. If you can state your argument in a more compelling manner instead of just implying that I’m some dimwit who can’t see it, we might be able to get somewhere. If not, whatever. Cheers to something else.”

And again, you try to claim that all I’ve demonstrated is that their is suffering. That’s not at all what I demonstrated. I presented a very specific aspect of the universe completely independent of any other, and demonstrated how that single aspect could be changed to decrease suffering and increase “free will” without affecting any other aspects of the universe.

You apparently deny that an omnibenevolent deity would care at all about suffering. But that’s fucking stupid. It’s in the definition. Omnibenevolent beings must, by definition act charitably, and must by definition relieve suffering when doing so would not cause any adverse consequences.

Do you also think that a Plumber who pays $100 for a $50 part is omnithrifty? Because the only way I can even begin to comprehend your claim to not understand the contradiction is if you think the Omni prefix means “Not.”

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Ronnie August 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Martin,
“Do you have any reason besides your inner intuitions that other minds exist? No one has ever developed a successful argument that they do, and so to support
such a premise I might be reduced to nothing more than appeal to collective intuition. “Other minds do exist, and deep down we all know it.””
I may not fully understand the issue here, but I think that this problem could only prove difficult to solve if one accepts dualism. Dualists appear to believe that the “mind” and the brain complete each other as different parts rather than being one and the same thing. I think that science has shown us that if a person loses his or her brain, they lose his or her “mind” as well. Also, if a part of the brain gets disrupted, a being displays the symptoms of that disruption. We know that other brains exist. Physicians perform scans on them, EEGs can reveal there waves, and surgeons remove tumors from them. Therefore, other “minds” exist because other brains exist. If brains did not exist, “minds” would not either.

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Kaelik August 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Indeed, somehow I missed that response, but Ronnie got it very well. The Mind is just what we call the stuff that happens in the brain. Since other people have brains, and other people act as if those brains are doing stuff, and I have yet to see any way for people to act at all aside from having a brain that is functioning at least somewhat…

I have reason to believe other minds exist comparable to mine.

It’s certainly not my intuitions that leads me to believe that.

And once again you can’t claim collective intuition when now two people’s intuitions are the same.

If I intuit that having my sexual partners be non consenting is “better” then you certainly can’t appeal to “collective intuition” as a reason why I shouldn’t rape. Clearly the collective disagrees.

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TaiChi August 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm

An explanation explains why a certain state of affairs is so. Your observation that “God could have created otherwise” explains precisely nothing. ” ~ cl

It explains why this world does not contain God. A world without God is a state of affairs. So it explains why a certain state of affairs is so.

That is not an explanation, but something like an afterthought, said in response to my objection.” ~ cl

Call it what you wish, then. What is wrong with it? That’s what I’d really like to know.

What do you mean by that? Do you mean that a being can both 1) possess free will, and 2) only have an inclination towards the good? ” ~ cl

Yes.

If so, I disagree. ” ~ cl

Then God does not have free-will. But God has all good-making properties, being all-good. So free-will is not a good-making property, and a fortiori, is not a good-making property which entails an evil-making property. So it is not an objection to my argument.

Again, what do you mean by “morally perfect free beings?”” ~ cl

A morally perfect free being is a being which has free-will, but who never goes wrong with respect to any action.

Yeah, well… people were confused by the questioning of the obvious in regards to geocentrism, too. If your closing point is that your position is “obvious” then I’m even more secure in my disagreement than before.” ~ cl

Cl, I’m confused because I’ve laid out my argument already. The preclusion of evil by the existence of God is spelt out rigorously in the premises of that argument and their arrangement in a logical form which derives a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil. So, what else are you asking for?

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TaiChi August 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Forgive me if this is absolutely ridiculous, but am I said to have free will with respect to my desire to jump 30 feet in the air, fly, rearrange matter, communicate telepathically, or see through walls?” ~ Hendy

It depends. Sometimes we freely will a certain course of action, but for whatever reason (distraction, change of mind, etc.), we fail to enact it. So there’s no necessary link between willing something and being able to do it. On the other hand, I think knowing what one can do limits what one can intend: if I believe that I can leap tall buildings in a single bound, then I can will to do so, but if I know it is impossible for me, then I can no more intend to do it than I can intend that 2 and 2 should equal 5.
At least, that’s how I think of free-will. Cagey theists such as Plantinga will give a definition of free-will based on the possibility of action rather than intention – S is free with respect to A in circumstances C iff it is both possible that S should perform A in C, and that S should refrain from A in C – which obviously serves the purpose of rebutting an argument from evil much better. It’s not clear to me that that is free-will at all, but on that view, as it is not possible to perform the physically impossible actions you describe, and so a person wouldn’t have free-will with respect to them.

Would it be fair to say that we could be created such that we were free within our physical and mental capabilities such that we were free within the confines of not being able to do evil?” ~ Hendy

Yes, I think so. At this stage, theists sometimes make a distinction between freedom and significant freedom, where the latter allows one to make morally significant choices, to choose good or evil. But God does not appear to have this significant freedom, which raises other problems, like why God should’ve preferred significant freedom over mere freedom in the first place.

Both strike me as an improvement that do not violate free will. If you think #1 is a violation, surely #2 is not. ” ~ Hendy

I think you’re right. BTW, if your interested in reading more on free-will, you might like to check out Ted Honderich’s site.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Patrick, exactly. It’s more of a job for a lawyer or professional debater.

New evidence could be honestly reflected on in the moment during a debate, but it likely will not be if it detracts from supporting a pre-existing presumption that exists prior to the debate starting. It would be good if it was not the case, but the format doesn’t allow for loads of dynamic and careful thought on potentially unexamined new ideas.

Most people can’t think in the moment. Instead, they react based mostly on old patterns including old ideas and possibly invalid data. This goes for the debaters as well as the audience. Thinking actually happens slowly and over time, not in the minutes allowed for a debate. This is why aiming at raising issues that stick in the mind and require later investigation are good ways to reach an audience.

Many of the debaters are also only interested in drawing blood, and don’t care if what they prepare to say is actually true or not. That is the unfortunate thing, but what’s a lie or a distortion if it saves souls?

Scientists — theist or atheist — are bad debaters since they tend to consider facts and hold ideas tentatively instead of insistent and dogmatically. Audiences like confidence, and dogmas provide that in droves.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Martin: “You’re talking about winning rhetorically, not rationally. Fine, if that’s what you want. This is indeed how Kent Hovind manages to win. I’m more interested in the actual arguments themselves, not in winning over the audience.”

Well, this is a post about debates, so although I agree that the arguments are more interesting that the debate format can reveal, arguments as they play out in debates are the discussion.

My interest here is finding the remarks, responses, arguments (and tactics, as Patrick is indicating) that are probably most effective versus the standard (Craig) debate positions.

Your opinion is welcome, but you’ve also revealed a poor ability to grasp the clear problem that claims of objective morality need more than “I just feel it so much” to be justified, so while you may prefer the arguments to the debate you don’t appear ready to rise above the crowd.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Me: “This is the opposite of what we’d expect from a religion that claims to have grounded itself in an objective morality.”

MauriceX: Craig deals with this type of objection in his debate with Dr. Shook: [video link]

I watched the link. I find Craig’s defense meaningless. He basically says that there is objective morality because… without objective morality there could be no moral progress. This is so freaking weak I don’t know what to say. Craig just assumes what he wants to assert – that there is only objective morality through theism – and then pretends that the question is about moral progress, not moral variance.

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Tony Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Wow. Bam.

“What do you mean by that? Do you mean that a being can both 1) possess free will, and 2) only have an inclination towards the good? ” ~ cl

Tai Chi: Yes.

“If so, I disagree. ” ~ cl

Tai Chi: Then God does not have free-will. But God has all good-making properties, being all-good. So free-will is not a good-making property, and a fortiori, is not a good-making property which entails an evil-making property. So it is not an objection to my argument.

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Hendy August 17, 2010 at 5:47 pm

@cl:

(This got long… for anyone else, I’m primarily interested in thoughts on #3)

Yes, thanks for the response. I was kind of winging this myself as I went along, though I’ve heard some general posings of this response before (i.e. not being free to do x).

Let’s make sure we keep the two circumstances I initially proposed separate, as I think we’re possibly blending them:

— Question 1 —
Could we be created with less of a desire to do evil such that a very strong oppositional emotive mechanism were in place to discourage it?

Regarding murder/poop: very good point. I had not thought about the fact that we are not born with these traits. My daughter should be a prime example of not having quite grasped the latter (and I mean that)!

In light of that, let’s put it this way: Are there any desires that are “genetically” human rather than taught?” If so, let’s focus on those. In other words, are we created “un-wholly free” in any sense?.

Or put another way: Is there a universally present or nearly universally present wholly natural (un-taught) desire/repulsion in humans?

If so, god could make the desire for evil like that and it would be universally or nearly universally repulsive even though we could overcome this repulsion and commit it. I think there are such repulsions such as from pain and hunger (perhaps just a form of pain). I suppose we can argue that mental and physical training can lead one to not avoid pain such as the well-known Buddhist immolation acts during Vietnam, though I would argue that this is by far a minority of cases in which someone is able to overcome such an inherent physical/mental obstacle to do so. If we add in artificial assistance which you introduced in your last post, pain killers are another way to reduce this inherent repulsion.

Can you think of any? Even if there are ways to overcome such a desire, all we really need is an example of an un-taught repulsion that is almost universally present. If such a thing exists, surely evil could be in this category. We’re free to do it, but it takes a hell of a will to do so.

— Question 2 —
Are there things we are free to will/desire but wholly unable to do such that evil could be in this category?

I pondered this one quite a bit. I hear you on artificial assistance to make things normally impossible to be possible and initially wanted to claim that shouldn’t be allowed but then supposed that a situation could exist when evil would be willed but not possible until tools, implements or just another human were present in order to bring it about. For a weak person, perhaps an artificial aid like a gun would be necessary to bring to fruition the willed intent to kill.

But, what about the desire to violate natural laws? Even assistance like magnets or mini-rockets are not violating gravity but only providing a force to counteract my weight, m*g. What if I actually want to violate it such that f < m*g but I still accelerate upwards? Or what if I will to create a cup of tea like on the Starship Enterprise in the palm of my hand by saying, "Tea, Earl Gray, hot"… from nothing. Not rearranging molecules, but literally from nothing? Or that I will myself to turn into a perpetual fireball such that I burn but my flesh is not wounded and there is no fuel being consumed?

I guess I like far-fetched examples, but they’re things that could be willed but perhaps lie outside the realm of any possible means of bringing them about… regardless of devices or learning… ever. What do you think of those? I could see some logical argument being constructed against violating laws, as perhaps a law, by definition, cannot be broken or violated and this would be attempting to will against non-contradiction or something. Since I wen there, though… what about wanting to will myself to think something is A and also ~A?

Oh, how about this one. What about the desire to draw a true 2d figure. No matter what you attempt, you will either be creating a representation (via computer) or a 3d object, for any implement used (pen, pencil, marker, etc.) will have a thickness of some sort (the paper thickness or thickness of the lead/ink). No one can actualize a shape with only length and width and no height. Do the means exist with which to ever create a line that is infinitely thin? I would suggest not. If this is so, this is something easily conceived, freely willed, and thus literally impossible to do.

— Proposition 3 —
New one… I thought this one up on the way home and love it. Using your comment that we could potentially be able to jump 30 ft or use telepathy some day, check out this proposal:

God could have created us wholly free and able to commit evil and the means for doing evil exist… but the ability and/or method to actually do evil is such a complex problem to be figured out that we will never actually figure it out!

Thus, just as we’re free to will ourselves toward an understanding of the origins of life and workings of the mind but have so far not done so, evil could be in that category. We can conceive of what it is, ponder hypothetical mechanisms for bringing it about… but never actually figure it out.

Evil could be like a Rubik’s cube with 1 billion pieces such that the problem is finite yet so complex or requires so much time that humans will not achieve the solution before the world is destroyed by Andromeda, the 2nd coming, or human extinction.

Even further, what if it could be understood in theory (just as someone could mathematically propose the solution for the 1 billion piece Rubik’s cube), but, again, due to limitations in time or understanding, no one would be able to bring it about in practice.

I really like that one.

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Hermes August 17, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Hendy: I really like that one.

As you should. It’s a nice baby.

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Ronnie August 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm

“EEGs can reveal there waves.” Should be, “EEGs can reveal their waves.”

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cl August 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm

TaiChi,

Let me reread both of your posts and your comments here, again. I’m still not seeing what you see, and I still believe that you sealed the deal when you agreed with me that the beings God creates need not do good. For now, I’ll state that this particular exchange has got me confused:

…free-will can be paired with a perfectly good moral character. TaiChi

What do you mean by that? Do you mean that a being can both 1) possess free will, and 2) only have an inclination towards the good? cl

Yes. TaiChi

[If so,] I disagree. cl

To that, you replied,

Then God does not have free-will.

Yet, I never said God did. I already stated that in my understanding, God didn’t, so I’m not sure what that accomplishes.

…God has all good-making properties, being all-good.

For the sake of our discussion, I agree.

So free-will is not a good-making property, and a fortiori, is not a good-making property which entails an evil-making property. So it is not an objection to my argument.

Correct me if I’m missing something, but I never used any variant of “free will is a good making property” when I objected to your argument, so… ? It feels as though we’ve gotten mixed up somewhere.

Hendy,

For now I’ve only got time for question 1:

In light of that, let’s put it this way: Are there any desires that are “genetically” human rather than taught?” If so, let’s focus on those. In other words, are we created “un-wholly free” in any sense?.

Well, take for example the desire to eat. Are we created “un-wholly free” in any sense? Given the facts that we didn’t ask for the desire to eat in the first place, and that we can’t seemingly “unwire” ourselves [although the desire itself remains malleable], then I’d say yes, there are senses in which we can say we’re “un-wholly free”. I would also note that we’re discussing freedom, as opposed to free will, in that context.

If so, god could make the desire for evil like that and it would be universally or nearly universally repulsive even though we could overcome this repulsion and commit it.

The way I see it, that’s a pretty fair description of what we have. Of course, “evil” covers quite a range of behaviors depending on whom you ask, which makes the statement “evil is universally or nearly universally repulsive” a bit difficult to defend. However, if we take a sampling of some common evils – say, murder, torture, and child rape – then I think it is fair to say that homo sapiens exhibit a near-universal repulsion to those acts. Wartime excepted, only very small percentages of the population lack repulsion to these things, and this phenomenon is seemingly cross-cultural as far back as we can read.

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Hendy August 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm

@TaiChi:

Thanks for the link. I’ll have to bookmark that and plod through it sometime. There’s a ton there…

I think that we’re saying similar things, then. If there’s things we can intend/will but not bring about, then we’re not created wholly free to begin with and thus, perhaps, it’s not a big deal to heap evil in that pile of un-doable stuff anyway. What I’m wondering is if a more “real world” example needs to be present, as some have called omnipotence the ability to do anything that is not logically impossible and thus it could be said that free will is free to do anything that is not logically impossible as well, and 2+2+5 is such, at least that’s how I would see it…

See my #3 above. Even if there’s nothing wholly naturally repulsive such that god could have made evil freely chosen only under extraordinary circumstances (some instances already seem like this, but others do not) and even if nothing exists that is actually impossible… he still could have made the bringing about of evil such a complex problem to figure out that we would never be able to do it. It could even be theoretically understood, solvable in a finite amount of time, and willed… but we’d die out before anyone made evil happen.

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TaiChi August 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I’m still not seeing what you see, and I still believe that you sealed the deal when you agreed with me that the beings God creates need not do good. ” ~ cl

Perhaps it was a mistake to agree. I’ve been indulging you in a counterpossible, that God could create free beings who could do wrong. What is right about that statement is that merely free beings can do wrong, so if per impossible they were created by God, then they would not necessarily be morally perfect. But, strictly, I think your statement is false, since it is not possible that God should choose to create merely free beings without perfect moral character – his omnibenevolence and the alternative of creating morally perfect free beings instead dictates otherwise. Is that clear?

Correct me if I’m missing something, but I never used any variant of “free will is a good making property” when I objected to your argument, so… ?” ~ cl

Well, then I simply don’t know how you mean to respond to my argument. What is the import of free-will here? Which premise of my argument does it serve as counterexample to, and why?

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Martin August 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Tony,

My interest here is finding the remarks, responses, arguments (and tactics, as Patrick is indicating) that are probably most effective versus the standard (Craig) debate positions.

Then what I would highly recommend is reading over Wes Morriston’s stuff: http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/selected-papers.html

He’s a Christian philosopher who spends his time trying to poke holes in Christian theism; to “burn away the dross.” I think the most valuable counterpoints to a position come from someone on the other side of the fence.

but you’ve also revealed a poor ability to grasp the clear problem that claims of objective morality need more than “I just feel it so much” to be justified, so while you may prefer the arguments to the debate you don’t appear ready to rise above the crowd.

I just don’t have that much knowledge of ethics. However, I am reading this now, and you should too: http://www.iep.utm.edu/moralrea/

An article on moral objectivity and the arguments for and against it.

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consideratheism August 18, 2010 at 2:06 am

This question is probably exhausted to the point of mere annoyance, but is there anyone you think has beaten Craig? And if not who is the man for the job?

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Hendy August 18, 2010 at 3:18 am

@consideratheism:

See Luke’s posts HERE and HERE. Hopefully they help with who may have won and who Luke would like to see try.

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lukeprog August 18, 2010 at 6:04 am

consideratheism,

Kagan arguably beat Craig.

But nobody is really up to the task. Craig has been debating since high school, and has a Ph.D. in both philosophy and the field relevant to historical jesus studies, and has been working as a professional on both subjects for decades. Nobody is really ‘qualified’ to beat him.

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MauricXe August 18, 2010 at 7:27 am

Well remember that Craig claims the debate with Kagan wasn’t really a debate at all. It was more of a discussion therefore he wasn’t as aggressive.

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drj August 18, 2010 at 10:20 am

Craig’s identity to most of us who follow this stuff at all, seems to be something that can be summed up as, “that guy who wins all of his debates”.

I do wonder if this reputation skews our evaluations… yes Craig is articulate, he’s polished, etc, but does he really defeat his opponents arguments *that well*?

I’m inclined to think not. My sample size is pretty small, as I’ve only watched a small fraction of the debates, but I don’t recall many where a victory could be decisively handed to Craig in any certain manner. Most of the times it seems to end with both sides getting in some good points and counterpoints, but neither decisively refuting one another.

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drj August 18, 2010 at 10:32 am

Craig just seems starts out the winner in everyone’s mind, and unless the opponent decisively defeats him, he gets the win – even if Craig didn’t decisively defeat his opponent.

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Justfinethanks August 18, 2010 at 11:46 am

Well remember that Craig claims the debate with Kagan wasn’t really a debate at all. It was more of a discussion therefore he wasn’t as aggressive.

Yeah, that’s the excuse he gave on his Question of the Week:

I didn’t press the point because our hosts with the Veritas Forum had made it very clear to me that they were not interested in having a knock-down debate but a friendly dialogue that would foster a warm and inviting atmosphere for non-believing students at Columbia.

“Oh, I would have totally ripped him a new one, but the Veritas Forum totally had my hands tied.”

It seems like a silly excuse, given the fact he was actually pretty combative and argumentative during the “discussion.” He just wasn’t able to overwhelm such a well-studied ethicist like Kagan.

But even if he did pull back for the sake of the organizers, the very fact that Craig felt the need to make excuses makes it clear he understands that his position didn’t come off that well.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

drj: Craig just seems starts out the winner in everyone’s mind, and unless the opponent decisively defeats him, he gets the win – even if Craig didn’t decisively defeat his opponent.

I hadn’t thought about it, but I do notice that I have that expectation; a decisive win or Craig comes out smelling like napalm.

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cl August 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm

TaiChi,

I apologize, but much remains unclear. I also commented at your blog today. I’m willing to put more time into this discussion, but, as I said over at your place, I want to be thoroughly sure I understand your argument. I feel like things will snap into place as we move along, though.

I’ve been indulging you in a counterpossible, that God could create free beings who could do wrong.

How is that a “counterpossible?” Aren’t all free beings able to do wrong by default? Isn’t it fair to say that by necessity, a morally free being must be able to do either good or evil?

…strictly, I think your statement is false,

Which statement of mine are you alluding to there? That the beings God creates need not do good? Are you now saying that’s false, i.e., that the beings God creates must do good and only good? If so, I would respond that they are not free.

Honestly, another thing that confuses me is the whole “good-making property” vs. “evil-making property” aspect of your argument. Could you give examples of each?

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Patrick August 18, 2010 at 8:24 pm

For what its worth, if you want to see how to destroy Craig, the best way to do it is to watch Craig interact with atheists on youtube. They’re not time limited, and they have the option of discussing the subjects they want to discuss instead of the subjects Craig selects. So far the debate has established that Craig doesn’t understand the differences between deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning, that Craig is willing to mock people when he really just doesn’t understand them, and that Craig is at a severe disadvantage when he’s held to a standard of consistency across all of his debates instead of across a single debate.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Links?

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Patrick August 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PHX7c0Nj2M

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8273

There’s one exchange. The first is someone critiquing a dumb thing Craig said, the second is Craig digging himself in deeper while trying to weasel out of the dumb thing he said without admitting it was a dumb thing, and without correcting the error.

The problem with enjoying the internet Craig-beatdown is that its kind of a random, crowd-sourced thing, and there’s no central repository. This link has a collection of videos, but the quality varies widely.

http://www.youtube.com/user/theowarner#p/c/46E72BC0D8606D74

The relevant thing to look for on the page is the playlist on the right. The main video I’ve linked to will be whatever is on the front of the user’s page at the moment you click the link.

Some of the playlist is good, some is bad, some is philosophical, some is moral or cultural… you get the idea. One guy just takes Craig’s apologetics about the Bible and applies it to Batman. Not the most philosophical, but effective in an ironic sort of way.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Batman. Classic. [ watches ] Agreed. Ironic and effective, though it would have worked better as a set of slides.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Well, I take it back somewhat. The bobbing head animation was distracting. A static image would be better.

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Patrick August 18, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Well, the guy who made the Batman video is a little insane. You just have to get used to it if you watch his videos. They’re an acquired taste.

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rvkevin August 18, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Since it has been brought up, can someone explain to me how this makes any sense at all?

1. Either God exists or the moon is made of green cheese.
2. The moon is not made of green cheese.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Now this is a sound argument for God’s existence: its premisses are both true and the conclusion follows from the premisses by the rules of logic (specifically, disjunctive syllogism). Nevertheless, the argument is not any good because the only reason for believing the first premiss to be true is that you already believe that God exists (a disjunction is true if one of the disjuncts is true).

In what sense could the first premise be called true? They have a logical fallacy named after it, its called a false dichotomy. What kind of reasoning does Craig use when supporting his premises if he deems something like this to be true? It seems like he’s implying that belief in a premise is sufficient justification for determining it to be true. Wouldn’t this be the role of evidence and reasoning? Surely, I must be misunderstanding him.

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Patrick August 18, 2010 at 10:46 pm

It doesn’t make sense. He’s probably trying to explain that a circular argument can be both sound and valid, but still useless. He’s just doing a bad job at explaining his point.

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 5:51 am

1. Either God exists or the moon is made of green cheese.

A related classic;

Kissing Hank’s Ass

Source: http://www.jhuger.com/kisshank.php

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James Gray August 19, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Does Craig win the arguments because he is speaking to the audience? Would he lose the debates more if the audience were all atheists? A group of atheists might be highly unpersuaded even if he is “six moves ahead” considering that they might be six unimpressive moves.

I suspect part of the problem is that theism is taken for granted by most people and the audience is not going to be easily won over by someone against their entire worldview.

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 8:13 pm

James, good points. I’ll add one more: Theism is taken for granted by most people, including many if not most atheists.

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James Gray August 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I think Chomsky in Manufactoring Consent said that his worldview is so far from what most people understand that he sounds crazy given the limited 2 minutes allowed on television. It could take hours to support an argument that would require him to challenge everyone’s assumptions. Of course, that’s optimistic considering that an entire philosophy education might even be necessary.

With that in mind it could be impossible for an atheist to win a debate given 5 minute arguments and rebuttals. An entire worldview simply can’t be dismantled that quickly.

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 9:09 pm

That’s why I try and keep it staggeringly simple;

* [to Christians who assume you're a Christian] I’m not a Christian. No, really, I’m not a Christian.

* [to Christians who can't imagine that anyone who isn't a Christian] I’m not a Christian. No, no, I don’t follow your Jesus Christ. Is that OK with you? [usually that final question leads to embarrassment]

* I don’t know for a fact that there are no gods, I just don’t believe there are any.

* [to a theist] Like you, I don’t believe that most gods exist.

* [if the person seems challenged by my lack of belief] Some gods are more credible than others. [they assume -- usually wrongly -- that their deity is in the credible category]

* [if honesty is appreciated or the person is not a practicing Christian/Muslim/Jew] The Christian/Muslim/Jewish deity is not credible.

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lukeprog August 19, 2010 at 9:53 pm

James Gray,

That’s right. For example, you have to explain that there is no free will, and show all the evidence for that. And at least a dozen other things.

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Thinkyhead August 20, 2010 at 2:56 am

The basis of morality is the same for the Atheist as it is for the Theist, when it comes down to it. It’s not a hard place to start from. It would be hard to bring into a debate with any concision, but here’s the seed, and you can easily extrapolate from there.

1. Life is the basis for all value. Without life there would be no one around to have needs, and therefore nothing of particular value to anyone would exist.

2. The things that life requires – or values – we call “resources.” Before the existence of life, there was no such thing as a “resource” or a “need” but from the inception of life the concept of resources is born.

3. Along with resources comes the notion of scarcity. There may not always be enough of what I need, or in social relations, there may be sufficient quantity for you and me to each get less than enough, or it may be sufficient for one of us.

4. From scarcity comes the notion of conflict of interests. In order for you to have enough I must sacrifice my life. In order for me to have enough, you must sacrifice your life. Or if no one is willing to make a sacrifice then one can choose to take from the other. Or both can share and perish together.

5. From long experience acting in this realm of need, scarcity, and conflict, we have determined that some things work well and other things don’t. Some things may seem to work well in the short term but fail in the long term. Or they may seem to work poorly in the short term, but steadily improve in the long term. Wisdom helps us determine particular cases.

6. The guidelines we build to nurture positive outcomes in the face of needs, scarcity, and conflict, we call Ethics and Morals. Generally speaking, ethics are more pragmatic and situational whereas morals are more broad and codified.

Natural selection can only imbue us with innate moral/ethical wisdom insofar as a given action or class of actions has direct or indirect consequences to oneself. For example, if you steal from your brother you may become alienated from the social unit and therefore produce fewer offspring. We can see that evolution tends to favor the sneaky and clever as much as the honest.

But since most of the Theists posit a morality based on authority and not on intuition or “innate goodness” Atheists don’t have to promote or defend the idea that our sense of what is advantageous is intuitive or deeply ingrained in our nature. It is enough to show that what is good or bad (for living beings) is right in front of everyone to see. Humans require good healthy food, protective clothing, sanitary living conditions, and secure shelter. On the social level we need companionship, education, and a sense of purpose. With respect to the mind, we need skillful means to overcome our vices - those actions and tendencies which are anti-life. At the socio-political level, we need to respect every individual’s autonomy in those gray regions where they are the lords of their reality. And we need to provide protections and remedies.

Notice that nowhere in my reasoning have I had to appeal to any transcendent authority. Human beings share most traits in common with every other human being, and it is staggeringly easy to reach a consensus on the basis for mutual respect and to honor the foundation of this whole situation, the continued preservation and improvement of life on this planet.

You may also notice that this idea of LIFE is so central to our conceptions that even the concept of “what God is like” can be shown to be an outgrowth of it. Everything that God is fabled to have said and done was borne of an attachment to life (not just the inert “creation”) and is intended to highlight some aspect of life. Of course God has been a handy political tool since the first prehistoric parent-child conference, long before Moses used the big guy to scare people into following his Ten Commandments.

Perhaps the one central moral/ethical concept where Theists and Atheists contrast markedly is in the area of submission to authority. The Theists regard morality as a submission to the will of a being whom we cannot question. It is fortunate that the Ten Commandments are so generally beneficial, because the Theist believes that we should obey even those commandments we don’t understand, because we can’t see the larger picture which (presumably) God can see clearly. I’d venture that most Theists regard that kind of obeisance as a virtue.

Maybe one good way to debate morality is to take it point by point. What moral do you, the Theist, hold that I, the Atheist, do not? Yes, we disagree on mindless obedience. We may disagree possibly on the individual’s autonomy in choosing whether to proceed with a pregnancy. But we would most likely agree that it’s good to provide help to people in need, to preserve the environment, and to give children the best tools we can so they may thrive in a connected world. In these common areas, we would both likely agree to take full advantage of our collective experience in these realms so that we could better accomplish those noble goals.

Which would lead us to converge on Science! which is to say, the collective experience of countless observers, recorders, and pattern-recognizers throughout history.

I think it would be pretty quick in a debate on this foundation to get from a point of dispute to a place of consensus, and maybe even become a forum for formulating solutions to the most vexing, practical, resource-centric problems in the world.

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Hendy August 20, 2010 at 5:27 am

@Thinkyhead:

Maybe one good way to debate morality is to take it point by point. What moral do you, the Theist, hold that I, the Atheist, do not? Yes, we disagree on mindless obedience.

Fair enough, though Luke has made it quite clear that this is not actually the question on the table. The question surrounds the basis for why you each hold various moral values.

If there is a man in the sky who has created moral values, the theist is consistent as his/her adherence to values that exist — they are objective and universal.

Simply because the atheist can say, “I follow the same set of morals you do” does not mean that they are consistent themselves or that this same set of values should have compulsory applicability to all other humans. You do introduce briefly the topic of evolutionary morality and this, if confirmed and agreed upon, could provide the “out” in the same way that evolution did for the appearance of design. Or at least it would explain the intuition component that is often referred to as “proof” of moral values.

There still needs to be systems present to show a reliable way of determining what is right, hence things like Luke/Alozo’s Desire Utilitarianism. If we resort to simply comparing what we value as moral, we really haven’t met the challenge and there’s nothing stopping you from changing your mind tomorrow.

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James Onen August 20, 2010 at 6:07 am

Patrick thanks for the link:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8273

…where Craig said:

1. Either God exists or the moon is made of green cheese.

2. The moon is not made of green cheese.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Now this is a sound argument for God’s existence: its premisses are both true and the conclusion follows from the premisses by the rules of logic (specifically, disjunctive syllogism). Nevertheless, the argument is not any good because the only reason for believing the first premiss to be true is that you already believe that God exists (a disjunction is true if one of the disjuncts is true).

Guys help me out here. But by saying the above, hasn’t Craig just refuted his own Moral Argument? By the above reasoning, the first premise of the Moral Argument also begs the question, no? Or have I misunderstood?

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Hendy August 20, 2010 at 6:46 am

@James:

Check out THIS. I see the argument in 1.2 as essentially how Craig is arguing.

I see your point and would agree if what Craig said accurately describe how I look at the argument. The difference is that in premise 1, if you accept it you do so only because you think the dichotomy is somehow true. If you believe it, then, you are unwilling to reject that god exists and thus must maintain that a cheese moon follows from that belief (begging the question from the start).

I reject it because I don’t suspect that god exists from the start and thus see it as an utterly false dichotomy.

While the argument is in the same form for morality, Craig completes the necessary step of explaining why premise 1 is true for morality which he does not do for a green cheese moon. While his explanation perhaps isn’t very good (anyone who just knows that rape is wrong just knows that this value exists; it’s universal and is not just culminated from within yourself), this is the key difference.

The argument 1.2 in the link above is essentially what he’s doing. He believes that moral facts exist and that god is the only reason for thinking these moral facts would exist. In other words, there are no other explanations for these moral facts. To succeed he has to show:

- For premise 1: that god is the only possible (or likely) source of them to support why this premise is not a false dichotomy even if premise 2 is true
- For premise 2: that objective moral values actually do exist

We can get around this by showing:
- objective moral values are something other than divinely prescribed laws written into the fabric of the universe (for example Luke would say that the stem from desires)
- objective moral values do not actually exist
- there are alternative explanations for why we think there are objective moral values (evolutionary morality)

That’s my novice read on the situation.

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Hermes August 20, 2010 at 7:17 am

Related;

Jonathan Haidt lists off 5 categories of morality;

Harm

Fairness

Ingroup

Authority

Purity

The first two everyone has. The last three are emphasized in groups that are smaller and socially conservative in nature.

More from Jonathan Haidt;

The moral mind [video: TED]

Moral psychology and the misunderstanding of religion [article: Edge]

What makes people vote Republican? [article: Edge]

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Thinkyhead August 20, 2010 at 9:41 am

@Hendy:

The question surrounds the basis for why you each hold various moral values.

You know as well as I do that “why” is retrospective, and very often just a convenient fiction. Both the Atheist and the Theist have precisely the same answers: “Because it makes sense,” or “Because it feels right.” When the Theist points to the Bible and their belief in God, they pretend to abdicate authority, and this is seen as a virtuous position by the blind faithful. They may try to dodge the responsibility, but they are ultimately the one making the judgment. Most Christians, I would venture, do not believe that stoning or genocide is justified, even though it seems to be sanctioned in parts the Bible. So ultimately they are taking on their own judgment as the ultimate authority, even in those cases where they choose to suspend it.

It’s interesting, because if most Christians are asked to defend their morality to a Secular Humanist, they can readily demonstrate good, sound, logical reasons (for most of it) in plain secular terms. It turns out that logic and reality support their position, but just try and tell them that their further appeal to transcendent authority is therefore unnecessary…

When the Atheist is asked “why” he can appeal to cause-and-effect, experience, and the sensible position represented by the Golden Rule. But just like the Christian, the Atheist ultimately follows his principles because they make sense and demonstrably produce good fruits. If the Atheist is particularly forthcoming, he can even say “because it feels right.” A Theist might tend to respect that answer.

…does not mean that they are consistent themselves or that this same set of values should have compulsory applicability to all other humans.

My argument is only that there are conditions that are universal to all living beings, and in practical terms these necessities form the basis for determining whether an action is beneficial (good) or non-beneficial (evil) with respect to some entity or entities in a given situation. The terms “good” and “evil” are always contingent, and represent thresholds on a continuum that runs from helpful at the one end to destructive on the far end. What is “good” for me may be “evil” with respect to the wild pig I’m killing for food.

As to the term “compulsory”, is there anything actually compulsory to any human being? People can take or leave any idea you throw out on the table. A Christian is not compelled to believe that Jesus is actually the son of God, but wishes and chooses to believe, and (as we understand minds do) will tend to find reinforcement in his reasoning.

A person who strongly adheres to logic and who concedes my axioms may feel “compelled” to accept my argument, but they are not guaranteed to accept it. Compulsion only enters in when there is some imminent threat. I would assert that there is no universal measure for what is absolutely “good” or “evil” in every situation with respect to every stakeholder. There are chains of consequences we can’t always consider.

If we resort to simply comparing what we value as moral, we really haven’t met the challenge and there’s nothing stopping you from changing your mind tomorrow.

Well to be fair, there’s absolutely nothing whatsoever that absolutely “stopping” a Christian or Sikh from changing their mind tomorrow either. Fear of suffering or a firm conviction may form a bulwark against reconsideration, but there can always be some “overriding compulsion” that will cause a person to choose differently. We’re talking about biological units here, not computers. And not only can pious people change their minds, they very often do. A personality may be severely altered by a brain tumor, to take the extreme case.

I’m not sure if you’re arguing in favor of compulsion or not, but if you were I’d ask you to defend that position. It is plainly shown that when ordinary people are given good nurturing and education, and when they are included and valued, they tend to be kind and helpful to themselves, others, and society as a whole. The central aim of Christianity (if you take the teachings of Jesus as central) is not to produce infallible moral agents (moral authority), but to develop compassion in the heart of its practitioners. In this business, Christianity – and indeed religion as a whole – holds no monopoly. Good, kindhearted people are common, even in impoverished and illiterate regions of the world. Nothing “compulsory” contributes to the development of a good heart, and as many Atheists have argued, such a morality would be very shallow.

As far as the Great Debate goes, the rhetorical victory really does matter the most, whether we like it or not! No one is compelled to accept anything that is put out there for their consideration. Whether they choose to swallow it or not will ultimately depend on taste and preference. If you’re looking to establish a broadly-applicable ethics, one that the majority of people will tend to accept, then you must begin with the existing consensus – those conditions of reality which we can agree on, and which are plainly demonstrable.

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Albatross August 20, 2010 at 10:39 am

A agree with the commenters who point out that ‘debating’ theists is a waste of time. Atheists will always be at a disadvantage (although preparation is of course good) because atheists admit doubt and are open to gray answers. Theists, at least when debating, insist that unauthenticated documents such as the Bible are authentic, and base their premises on their conclusions. This is a logically more rigid and robust structure exactly because they do not attempt to fit that structure into the framework of reality.

Atheists are also at a disadvantage because they do not have as deep a corpus of material to work from. Theists have thousands of years of plain-language philosophy to cite, while atheists require the arcane results of complex sociological analysis. It’s easier for the theist to subjectively say “Thomas Aquinas debunked your atheist argument in 1261 when he said…” than for the atheist to objectively claim “According to a 2004 study published by Wilford and Koop in the Journal of American Sociology, moral development occurs without regard to religious faith in children raised…”

The theist will always dismiss Wilford and Koop (“That study was flawed…”) while what can one do with Aquinas but offer an alternate subjective interpretation?

Preparation is good, but debating matters of faith – matters that by definition cannot be proven – is a waste of time. The REAL way to advance the credibility of atheism is to openly BE an atheist, and to be an example in one’s own life. I have a friend who said about me “How ironic is it that the most Christian man I know is an atheist?” That’s what I call winning the debate.

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Hendy August 20, 2010 at 10:55 am

@ThinkyHead:

You know as well as I do that “why” is retrospective, and very often just a convenient fiction. Both the Atheist and the Theist have precisely the same answers: “Because it makes sense,” or “Because it feels right.”

This is true in practice but is not philosophically. Forget compulsory or the Bible, or whatever else you want and look at the bare issues at hand:
- Do objective moral values exist?
- From where do these values originate?

I’m not sure I think you quite get this argument. It isn’t about saying, “Yeah, well I’m moral too as an atheist so explain that since I don’t believe in your god.”

It’s about moral values, whether or not they are objective, and where they come from. This is why your initial post didn’t sound compelling to me, as your starting point was, “Do we believe the same things are right and wrong? Yes.”

That’s not what this debate is about.

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Hermes August 20, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Albatross, I mostly agree, though I’ll comment on a few parts.

That Christians have their Bible is not an advantage for them. If anything it’s — well — an albatross. :-O

As for atheists, they don’t need more documents. They don’t even need any of the specialized documents about atheism or related topics, it just makes things a little simpler in general and some of them are just distractions from the real issues. Keeping focused on what is demonstratively true — not what is wished or believed in private — should always be the focus.

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Hendy August 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

@albatross:

I have a friend who said about me “How ironic is it that the most Christian man I know is an atheist?” That’s what I call winning the debate.

Indeed! That’s fantastic.

I agree with most of what you said as well, except for stating that their is a huge body of “plain language philosophy.” At times I wonder if it’s anything but plain language! As soon as one starts interpreting or refuting, the objection, “Well, he/she really meant this seems to start flying around the room.”

Not in all cases and probably not in Aquinas’ case, but for other things where shifting the goalposts around is advantageous I think obscure statements can serve the purpose of being reinterpreted to fit the situation rather than being in “plain language” so that modification is impossible and the meaning is clear.

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Thinkyhead August 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

@Hendy

It’s about moral values, whether or not they are objective, and where they come from. This is why your initial post didn’t sound compelling to me, as your starting point was, “Do we believe the same things are right and wrong? Yes.”
That’s not what this debate is about.

I was unaware there was a debate, just giving tossing out some handy rhetorical pointers for the debater. Well, to address this debate a little, let me comment on this point in the article:

The moral argument for theism is really simple. It says that without God as a foundation for moral values, there is no objective standard for morality. Without a transcendent source, morality can only be relative or subjective…. But most people think objective moral values exist, so therefore God must exist.

This is a very weak argument. There probably is no objective “standard for morality” (whatever that is). The appeal to a transcendent source as a remedy against subjectivity is meaningless gobbledygook. And, most people could be wrong in their intuitive belief that objective moral values exist. Hell, they are wrong.

This magical model seems to imagine that morals are “elsewhere,” and that we need to be told them by God because we could never discover or develop them on our own. But clearly, any proposed moral code must adhere to the conditions and requirements of life or it will be rejected as useless. When proponents defend against skeptics they quite naturally appeal to reason and try to demonstrate its practical consequences.

I think it’s a clear mistake to go looking for universal moral principles as if they were natural (or so-called metaphysical) principles. You can demonstrate, for example, that putting a knife into someone’s heart causes them to bleed and die. You can demonstrate that it causes their spouse to become very upset. But you can’t demonstrate that it’s “wrong,” only that certain consequences will follow. That’s because “right” and “wrong” are not natural phenomena. They are value judgments in the minds of beings of a particular nature. There may be some cases where putting a knife into a human heart may be considered a highly moral act.

Certainly there are some extreme acts which could almost never be justified. For example, rape and torture are considered heinous and unkind in the extreme. But many Christians support the torture of terrorist suspects. And many religious people around the world blame and shun the victims of rape while giving a pass to the rapist. If these attitudes are common to their morality, who is to say that they don’t come from God too?

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James Gray August 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Thinkyhead,

you are falling prey to the biases of the religious side of the debate. Almost no philosopher thinks God has anything to do with right and wrong, but they almost unanimously agree that there is a right and wrong. Even anti-realists agree that there is a right and wrong, and that’s certainly not to say that all atheist philosophers are anti-realists.

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Hendy August 20, 2010 at 6:16 pm

@Thinkyhead:

We’re just talking past each other… I meant “this debate” as in “the debate about morality” not between us ;)

Check my post to James above. I covered what you discuss when I said when I said that for Craig’s moral argument to work, the following needs to be shown:

- For premise 1: that god is the only possible (or likely) source of them to support why this premise is not a false dichotomy even if premise 2 is true
- For premise 2: that objective moral values actually do exist

We can get around this by showing:
- objective moral values are something other than divinely prescribed laws written into the fabric of the universe (for example Luke would say that the stem from desires)
- objective moral values do not actually exist
- there are alternative explanations for why we think there are objective moral values (evolutionary morality)

In other words, I already recognize what you propose as the solution. All I wanted to point out is that having a debate and saying, “Look we agree on what is right and wrong” does not address the argument for god’s existence from moral values. Luke is also saying the same thing in his article and he’s also explicitly saying that when Craig makes his arguments and atheists respond by saying, “But god was a monster” or “But I’m moral, too!”, they are not facing the argument.

To advance that moral values do not exist outside of our own determination, consensus, societal convention, etc. is absolutely a way to address this, so I’m fine with that. I never meant this to get long and winded, only to suggest that your first post might have been off the target slightly. That’s all.

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James Onen August 21, 2010 at 4:33 pm

@ Hendy

Thanks for clarifying things for me – I think you’ve explained it quite well. I also think the counter points you presented are very effective in challenging the notion that any of the premises of the Moral Argument are true.

It seems to me that your response would work very well in a debate senario during a 10-minute rebuttal to Craig’s opening statement because (1) you address the core issue, and (2) you actually put the theist to task to answer a number of valid objections (which I don’t think are so easy to refute in the time-frame of a debate). My favourite one out of those you raised is having the theist explain why he thinks “…god is the only possible (or likely) source of them [objective moral values] to support why this premise is not a false dichotomy even if premise 2 [objective moral values exist] is true…”. I would imagine that attempts to wiggle out of this objection would open the door to all kinds of fallacies – particularly the argument from ignorance.

Afterall, EVEN IF the atheist failed to present a coherent account for objective moral values (assuming during the debate he took the position that they do exist) it would not automatically imply that ‘God’ was the only explanation for them.

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Hendy August 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm

@James:

Glad I could help out. You are correct and I think if someone would finally present an alternative source for objective moral values Craig might have a difficult time indeed. I should re-watch his reasons for why they are only attributed to god but don’t think they are that way by much more than definition (as set up in premise 1).

If you haven’t, read (or listen to) Luke’s book on What is Morality?. He lays out a summary there for Desire Utilitarianism in which human desires are the source of objective moral values.

The only other atheistic case (so far) I’ve found for objective morality laid out in a reasonable manner (not simply “We just know that objective moral values exist”) is from Ebon Musing HERE. It’s a case for universal utilitarianism and I encountered it quite early in my doubt/deconversion and really liked it. I should re-read it now that some time has elapsed to see what I still think about it.

For all I know most atheist subscribe to the non-existence of moral values, but this gets dicey as well. Morality is an ugly field for my read. I’m more worried about whether god exists right now and thus haven’t really sunk my teeth into a ton!

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Hendy August 21, 2010 at 9:28 pm

@James:

Whoops, the Ebon Musings link I wanted is actually THIS. I linked to the part about UU but you can read the entire article on morality. It’s quite interesting and I love reading pretty much anything by him.

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James Onen August 23, 2010 at 1:59 am

@ Hendy

I have read Luke’s book, though it was a while back. I guess its time I check it out again. Thanks for the link to Ebon Musings – lemme check it out too.

Personally, I’m with the camp that is skeptical of the existence of objective moral values.

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Thinkyhead August 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm

…Desire Utilitarianism in which human desires are the source of objective moral values…

*shudder* What a disturbing idea, that any serious thinker would try to make the case for human desire as the root of morality. Remember the old SNL segment Bad Idea Theater? Of course, I would never begrudge any philosopher from trying to defend the idea purely as an exercise in reductio ad absurdum.

Any root morality inherent in Nature will be the same for the lizard, the leopard, the sea sponge, and the Homo sapiens. There we find only practical necessities and behaviors attuned to changing conditions, but inherent in those, especially in the higher organisms and social animals, playfulness, social orders, affection, empathy, and many of the great tools that have been beneficial to these species. Nature herself culls those entities that fail to conform to her realities.

So I’ll say I’m on the side of Time being the objective arbiter of what is Moral, vis-a-vis the success of this nascent species Man.

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bossmanham August 24, 2010 at 1:42 am

My question is, lukeprog, since you’ve said that it is the rational questions that led you to atheism, how can you remain a rational atheist when all the reasoned arguments go the other way? I’ve been wanting to ask you since I read your atheist conversion story a while back, but haven’t seen the post to do it on (since I don’t come here that often, admittedly). I have seen you admit that Craig always presents a better case, not just rhetorically, but logically, and he always has better arguments. You even state that you personally experienced God’s presence, which seems like a rationally justifiable reason to believe to me.

It is my contention that, with the fall of the argument from evil ala Plantinga, there are no good arguments for atheism. To not belabor the question any longer, how can you remain an intellectually fulfilled atheist without any backing for your own view?

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 8:01 am

Bossmanham, I won’t answer for Luke though I think I could do a rough response that would address your comments to him sentence-for-sentence.

You even state that you personally experienced God’s presence, which seems like a rationally justifiable reason to believe to me.

I have personally experienced a variety of entities that they cause me no problems. They seem to be independent and have wills of their own. Talking to other people, they too have experienced these and have no particular issues with them.

Now, here’s my question. Do you think that those experiences are sufficient for others who experienced the same entities to then treat the entities as actually self-willed and independent?

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Albatross August 24, 2010 at 8:18 am

I have personally experienced functioning dowsing rods. That doesn’t mean I believe in dowsing rods, it just means that I can’t explain what happened. While the experience taught me humility, it didn’t turn me into someone who believes in dowsing rods.

A very simple line of thought turned me into an atheist. I thought “There are a lot of beliefs. But logically, the closer a beliefs is to being ‘right,’ the more successful would be its followers. So what I need to look for is a belief generates notably more successful followers.”

What I saw was that religions of various sorts existed for, literally, tens of thousands of years. And across that time, not much changed. Human lifespan hung at around 30 years, and the planetary population remained more-or-less stable, within an order of magnitude.

Then, suddenly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and on into the 20th century, ZOOM! Lifespans increased! Population numbers soared! What possible belief system could have sprung up across those centuries that resulted in such a marked improvement in the human condition?

Why look at that, it’s SCIENTIFIC METHOD, the belief that the logical and systematic structuring of hypotheses, theories, and proofs yields and accurate idea of how the world works. Religion didn’t wipe out smallpox and polio, despite centuries of prayers, but scientific method did.

That was when I realized that religion had had its day – actually its millennia – and that the belief system that actually WORKED was science.

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bossmanham August 24, 2010 at 11:56 am

Hermes,

I’m not sure I’m getting what you’re asking there, but it seems to be that you have experienced other minds personally (presumably through sensory contact with their physical bodies) and you’re asking whether that’s sufficient for others to conclude that they exist? If that’s wrong, just let me know, but the answer is no, if they haven’t experienced those minds as you have it is not reasonable for them to believe they exist, unless you tell them about them and have a high amount of credibility with them (in other words do they have a reason to disbelieve you?).

However, sans your testimony and their personal experience with those minds, it is also not justified that they conclude that the other minds do not exist, rather all they would be justified in being, without further defeaters, is agnostic about their existence.

Albatross,

I have personally experienced functioning dowsing rods. That doesn’t mean I believe in dowsing rods

Let’s not equivocate. Dowsing rods do exist. Whether you place any sort of trust in them for your livelihood or whatnot (which is the meaning I think you are getting at with “believe in”) is a different story. I don’t know that anyone has a reason to place that kind of trust in them. Experiencing a personal and all powerful being is a totally different situation, and is disanalagous to your example.

A very simple line of thought turned me into an atheist. I thought “There are a lot of beliefs. But logically, the closer a beliefs is to being ‘right,’ the more successful would be its followers. So what I need to look for is a belief generates notably more successful followers.”

So, pragmatism determines truth? That’s demonstrably false. Newtonian physics is extremely pragmatic, but it isn’t true.

In terms of the account of the Scientific revolution you gave, which itself isn’t very accurate, I’m not sure how you would conclude that, because the scientific method works well therefore God must not exist. What line of reasoning led you there?

Why look at that, it’s SCIENTIFIC METHOD, the belief that the logical and systematic structuring of hypotheses, theories, and proofs yields and accurate idea of how the world works

But you have to assume that science is a good method of determining truth. What grounds, on atheism, do you have to believe that? What grounds do you have to believe the laws of logic are objective and do lead to truth? I don’t think you have any basis for those assumptions on atheism, but rather must accept them by faith.

And again, just because something works doesn’t mean it’s true. False beliefs can lead to positive practical effects. Not to mention pragmatism can be relative to the person. That theory of truth is unsustainable.

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Bossmanham, I apologize for any confusion. I’m getting over a cold, and did not explain what I was asking about very clearly.

I’ll try again.

In Luke’s case, you said that he “personally experienced God’s presence”.

Q. If only Luke “personally experienced God’s presence”, would that be sufficient to treat that as “a rationally justifiable reason to believe” that what he experienced referenced an actual deity?

Q. If his experience in isolation is not sufficient, what additional factors would be required, and how did you determine what those added factors are?

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Thinkyhead August 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

The best Luke can assert is that he experienced something that seemed like God’s presence. Or, he experienced something profound that he subsequently decided was God’s presence. Read “The Varieties of Religious Experience” to understand that people contextualize numinous experiences based on their culture, prior ideas, and expectations. There’s nothing revolutionary about Luke’s experience, it is quite common.

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James Gray August 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Hermes,

People think they see alien spaceships from outer space, bigfoot, and ghosts. There are common problems called “misidentification” and “anecdotal evidence.” Experiences of strange entities must be proven to be reliable before we can rationally accept them. Even Christians admit that God doesn’t talk to them very often, so such an experience would be met with suspicion. People who are told by God to kill their children aren’t really “experiencing God,” so why should anyone trust such an experience? If it’s positive that means that it’s real?

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm

[ comments withheld for the moment ]

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bossmanham August 24, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Hermes,

Q. If only Luke “personally experienced God’s presence”, would that be sufficient to treat that as “a rationally justifiable reason to believe” that what he experienced referenced an actual deity?

Yes. If he has no defeaters for that belief then there is no reason for him to not believe what he directly experienced.

From what I can see, however, Luke’s personal experience wasn’t in isolation to other evidence (as he admits that theists have good arguments) and the reasons he lists for leaving Christianity I have also had questions about and have found reasonable and plausible explanations for; not to forget that the Christian worldview provides the most comprehensive and accurate description of reality. Basically, the things he cites as defeaters for his belief don’t seem all that strong.

James,

Are you meaning to address me? It seems you are. Yes, people can misidentify things, that goes without saying. But the fact that some people misidentify something as the voice of God or whatever doesn’t mean everyone has.

Perhaps this is a reason God doesn’t “appear” to some people; they’d just explain it away?

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Yes. If he has no defeaters for that belief then there is no reason for him to not believe what he directly experienced.

So, is this the case with all experiences or just that narrow category of experiences?

Say, as James and Thinkyhead noted, was one experience I had as a child sufficient to claim that my conclusions about it were rationally justified because I experienced it? Would only contrary information be sufficient to remove that rational justification?

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Albatross August 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Dowsing rods do exist. Whether you place any sort of trust in them for your livelihood or whatnot (which is the meaning I think you are getting at with “believe in”) is a different story. I don’t know that anyone has a reason to place that kind of trust in them.
And because you don’t know about them, therefore they must not exist. I am beginning to understand how your belief system works: are you sure you’re not an Omphalos-worshipper?

The person who demonstrated working dowsing rods to me was an archaeologist. Yes! Archaeologists exist, and apparently some of them use dowsing rods to plot out subterranean walls before excavation. When she saw my skepticism upon hearing this claim, she had me immediately fashion a coat hanger into two right-angle wires, and then demonstrated by various means but to my skeptical satisfaction that they worked. I can’t explain the phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean I’m a believer in dowsing rods.

Experiencing a personal and all powerful being is a totally different situation, and is disanalagous to your example.

Ooh, disanalagous, you used a big word, you must be right. However what you seem to be saying is that while you don’t believe pragmatism determines truth, apparently size matters, and the bigger and more impressive something is, the more likely it is to be real. Dowsing rods, no; make-believe gods, yes. Gotcha.

And let’s come back to these words you’ve stuffed in my mouth, that “pragmatism determines truth”. Is THAT what I said? No, I said that people following beliefs that most accurately reflect reality would be more likely to have successful outcomes. That’s something called an hypothesis, and it is postulating a logically determined effect (success) from a basic premise (beliefs that adhere the most closely to reality are more likely to succeed in reality) in an empirically testable fashion.

Now, being just a lad at the time and not sensitive to nuance, the way I ACTUALLY phrased it to myself while daydreaming my way through yet another Wednesday night catechism class was “Huh, wouldn’t people praying to the RIGHT god be more likely to be rescued, cured or rewarded than people praying to a non-existent god?”

I mean, you have to admit there are non-existent gods – the Ten Commandments references them. You’re just sure that YOUR god is the One True God, and that every other god is fictional (which, just between you and me, is kind of a risky theological premise, since all one of the other gods has to do is be willing to step up and say “Hello” and suddenly Yaweh’s uniqueness is severely undermined).

So given that there are people who have been praying to the wrong god, you’d think the people who actually got the right god would have, well, a considerable advantage. I mean, here comes the hungry tiger, one guy prays to Ba’al, but nobody answers the phone, the guy gets eaten. Other guy prays to Yahweh, Yahweh checks his drawer of foreskins to be sure you’re a member, and bam, the other guy gets eaten. Soon the Ba’al worshipers have all been eaten by tigers, and the Christians are all that’s left. That’s a perfectly testable premise with a perfectly reasonable outcome.

And yet worshiping Yahweh, and later Jesus, didn’t REALLY amount to a whole lot of distinctive benefits. People kept grubbing along with about the same life-span. The Roman Catholic empire fell. The Black Plague was undaunted by God’s influence. People worshiped other religions and they did just about as well as the Jews and Christians.

Only the development and adherence to scientific method – which I admittedly covered in a rather slapdash fashion because, frankly, just HOW MUCH time and effort am I supposed to invest in a conversation like this? – resulted in exactly the kind of marked success that I’d predicted in my initial hypothesis. And at the time, I was really only thinking in terms of Odin-vs-Zeus-vs-Yahweh.

So adhering to scientific principles functions LIKE (that is to say, akin to, but not the same as) praying to an ACTUAL god. And the reason I phrased it as carefully as I did in my prior message is that I’m trying to avoid the frequent theistic response that “You worship science as a god, you blaspheming hypocrite!” which regrettably merely demonstrates how little such respondents understand science.

But if science WERE a god (it is not), science would be a damn sight more powerful, effective, and real than Yahweh or Jesus.

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James Gray August 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

bossmanham,

Yes I meant to be talking to you. I put the wrong person down as the person I was addressing.

You asked why Luke might not have sufficient reason to believe in God based on his “experience of God” and that was my answer. I didn’t mean to suggest that experiencing God should be totally ruled out just like we shouldn’t totally rule out observations of aliens or ghosts. But we still don’t take such observations very seriously.

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Thinkyhead, you wrote…

Read “The Varieties of Religious Experience” to understand that people contextualize numinous experiences based on their culture, prior ideas, and expectations. There’s nothing revolutionary about Luke’s experience, it is quite common.

I’ve actually held back in this conversation. I’m now going through James’ book for the 3rd or 4th time, taking notes. It fits in with some of my other speculations. I’ve covered my twist on some of that here; http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10787 and http://unreasonablefaith.com/2010/08/21/driscoll-on-twilight/?replytocom=114145

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Brian August 31, 2010 at 12:59 pm

On a related note, here’s a really good atheist store I found. Well, primarily atheist and science stuff…

Aristotle’s Muse

Maybe wearing an atheist T-shirt won’t change the world, but then again, maybe it could.

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bossmanham August 31, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Sorry about the lag in my response. My semester just started so I’ve been getting school stuff in order.

Hermes,

On personal experience as warrant for a belief:

So, is this the case with all experiences or just that narrow category of experiences?

I don’t see why not. Ultimately, all any of us has to go on is personal experience. Even if we’re relying on the testimony of another, we have to personally experience it through our senses. There isn’t really any independent evidence that the external world exists. We rely on our personal experience of it. And since we lack defeaters for it, it’s incumbent on us to believe it.

Say, as James and Thinkyhead noted, was one experience I had as a child sufficient to claim that my conclusions about it were rationally justified because I experienced it? Would only contrary information be sufficient to remove that rational justification?

Yeah, I think so. We could get into specific cases and whether the evidence is sufficient or whether we should expect to see any evidence, but it would be a red herring. As it pertains to what Luke has written, I don’t see why he’s an atheist.

Albatross,

And because you don’t know about them, therefore they must not exist. I am beginning to understand how your belief system works: are you sure you’re not an Omphalos-worshipper?

Um, I don’t think I said that at all. When you say dowsing rods, I assume you’re speaking of the rods people used to use to find water or certain minerals, correct? It’s precisely because we do know the nature of dowsing rods that we have no reason to trust them with our livelihood. We have defeaters to the proposal that they are helpful in some way.

I’m pretty sure I’d know if I worshiped the earth’s navel.

I can’t explain the phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean I’m a believer in dowsing rods.

Well, maybe you ought to reconsider your disbelief in dowsing rods? Or maybe there were some other supernatural forces working? Who knows? Do you have evidence to the contrary?

Ooh, disanalagous, you used a big word, you must be right. However what you seem to be saying is that while you don’t believe pragmatism determines truth, apparently size matters, and the bigger and more impressive something is, the more likely it is to be real.

Honestly, this comment makes little to no sense. Are you saying that big things are more true than little things? Or are you using sarcasm to cover up your lack of argument?

And let’s come back to these words you’ve stuffed in my mouth, that “pragmatism determines truth”. Is THAT what I said? No, I said that people following beliefs that most accurately reflect reality would be more likely to have successful outcomes.

No you didn’t, you said, “But logically, the closer a beliefs is to being ‘right,’ the more successful would be its followers,” which is basically saying, “whichever view brings about the greatest success is true” which is the definition of pragmatism. This does not show what is true. There are demonstrably false beliefs that lead to pretty successful results.

That’s something called an hypothesis, and it is postulating a logically determined effect (success) from a basic premise (beliefs that adhere the most closely to reality are more likely to succeed in reality) in an empirically testable fashion.

This isn’t the same as “the closer a beliefs is to being ‘right,’ the more successful would be its followers.” Predicting an effect and then that effect obtaining isn’t success, it’s observing the results of an experiment. Success is obtaining a desired outcome. If scientists are desiring certain outcomes in their method, then they are tainting it with bias. If science is simply about obtaining truth from empirical evidence, then the scientist should go into it without a desired result. They may expect a certain result, but that’s totally different with respect to motives.

However, let’s say your approach is correct for the sake of argument. Who determines what the best result is? I say the result of some forms of atheism lead to the brutalization of some humans, which I consider to be a bad result, therefore atheism is false because it doesn’t work for me. But that form of atheism seems to work for the powerful who would implement it. It would completely relitivize truth.

And even in the case where an expected result happens, you can’t simply conclude that your hypothesis is correct, because you’re affirming the consequent. It may have been something else that produced the result.

Now, being just a lad at the time and not sensitive to nuance, the way I ACTUALLY phrased it to myself while daydreaming my way through yet another Wednesday night catechism class was “Huh, wouldn’t people praying to the RIGHT god be more likely to be rescued, cured or rewarded than people praying to a non-existent god?”

Who says they aren’t? However, you may also recall the attention the church places on suffering too, by the way. The whole the world hates Christians because they hate Christ thing. The Bible never teaches that we’re to expect lollipops and roses in this life. Just the opposite in fact.

Is there an actual argument in the rest of your post? Seems like a simple appeal to ridicule, which doesn’t constitute a good argument.

I’ll be gracious and interpret. Your argument seems to be that if there is only one real God, then He would reward His followers by preventing death, sickness, oppression, etc. Yahweh’s followers still experience death, sickness, oppression, etc along with those who worship other gods. Therefore Yahweh isn’t the only one real God.

1) Who says it is incumbent on God reward His followers by preventing the aforementioned things? You? Who are you? 2) Who says He hasn’t rewarded any of His followers by preventing the aforementioned things? 3) Perhaps some of His followers preclude themselves from receiving some of those benefits by the things they do. 4) There’s the whole creation cursed due to sin thing. 5) I know your catechist taught that God will reward all of His followers with treasures that outweigh any reward that could be given in this life, and that those who suffer greatly will receive a greater reward.

Your argument is a non-starter. Just a modified argument from evil.

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Wink October 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Craig win debates and you wonder why?
The answer is staring you in the face.
He wins because his points are valid and he states them well.

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James Gray October 4, 2010 at 9:44 am

Wink,

You mean like his “point” that something isn’t possible unless God exists? Obviously all other possibilities have to be ruled out to make that claim, but does he really know all other possibilities?

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wissam October 21, 2010 at 11:20 am

Luke, given that theists usually win debates and that they have forceful arguments, don’t you ever feel swayed towards theistic belief? Sometimes that happens to me. Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, Craig’s kalam cosmological argument and fine tuning argument (also Collins’ fine tuning argument), and others are pretty damn tough to refute!

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lukeprog October 21, 2010 at 11:59 am

No. I think the arguments for theism are terrible.

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Thinkyhead October 21, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I have to agree with @lukeprog that there are simply no compelling arguments for intelligent design or divine intervention. If, for example, there are simply an infinite number of Universes, each having different laws born from out of the perturbations of a higher order of Nature, some of those universes will necessarily harbor intelligent organisms like ourselves. Frankly, all you need is a viable organic chemistry where reproduction is possible, and everything else will naturally follow.

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James Gray October 21, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Thinkyhead,

I think you are giving the theist argument too much credit. You really want to require all atheists to posit infinite universes? The question is: We don’t understand the universe completely, but so what? How does that prove the Christian faith?

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Thinkyhead October 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Ok, @James, that’s a fine point. It seems so simple to realize the mythical nature of the God character in the Old Testament, the various deities of Hinduism, and the Roman gods of old. However, it is far more difficult to undermine the notion of a special act of divine creation, which is perhaps why there are so many agnostics and secular people who believe in a God.

I don’t personally like to waste my time arguing about the Christian faith, or any other. An adult who believes strongly that a man named Jesus was the Only Son of God, the foretold Messiah, who came to Judge the Living and the Dead and sits at the Right Hand of the Father is not someone you can talk rationally to about the nature of the universe. They find the irrationality of their faith too valuable, or are simply inured to their community and family traditions. For such as these, the Christian faith is already proved. If you’ve read William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” then you know prayer and meditation can sometimes lead to profound experiences that are utterly discontinuous with everyday reality, not to mention startling moral reform and changes in personality. Those Pentecostal churches where people speak in tongues and such… they’ve met God in person so what can you tell them?

However, there are many people sitting on the fence, who accept evolution, who are interested in Nature, and yet are confounded by the concept of a self-sustaining universe or multiverse. They can’t imagine how anything so orderly and beautiful could emerge from ‘inert’ matter without some kind of guidance.

It’s true, we don’t understand the universe completely. But, we assume, it is neither an artifact of a special creation, nor is it simply a mechanical thing to be understood by pure mathematics. There is something “divine” in reality and our relationship to it, and it can be truly awesome sometimes. There are times you just want to thank someone for how amazing and beautiful it is, and there are times when you want to get pissed at someone for how painful and difficult it is. Even as a rational Atheist, I certainly understand these temptations to theism. They are deep-seated, to be sure.

For my part, rather than appealing to a transcendent power, I practice yoga and meditation to bolster my personal resilience. I find yoga and mindfulness practice to be utterly scientific approaches, but they address non-rational aspects of the mind. Often there are inexpressible “realizations” that well up out of these practices. Something is deeply felt, carries profound implications, and it is known perfectly. But you can’t put it into words. Now, I know this is just deep mental stuff happening as I let go and let go, and I don’t try to explain it. Nevertheless, when people say after a long meditation retreat “I became one with God” I know exactly what they mean, even if I disagree with their contextualization.

If only we could address the problem of religious ideology just by rational argument. Wouldn’t that be amazing? But when it comes down to it, you can’t pull out the floor unless people have some trust that they won’t fall into the abyss.

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Mark Novaky February 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I TOTALLY disagree with the premise of the author, an Atheist should NEVER let the discussion turn to ‘Philosophy’, once an Atheist concedes that ‘there is something’ to religion, he has lost.Hammer the lack of evidence, the absolute ridiculousness of the stories. Analogize the Biblical stories with less ‘charged’ examples, as far as I would concede arguing Philosophy is to say that IF God does exist, than REALITY doesn’t, we can’t trust ANYTHING to be real with a Meddling Omnipotent God…

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James Gray February 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Mark,

I TOTALLY disagree with the premise of the author, an Atheist should NEVER let the discussion turn to ‘Philosophy’, once an Atheist concedes that ‘there is something’ to religion, he has lost.

What makes you think philosophy legitimizes religion? You think philosophy is nothing but poor reasoning? That is exactly the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

…as far as I would concede arguing Philosophy is to say that IF God does exist, than REALITY doesn’t

Philosophy doesn’t require a constructive theory of reality. It’s quite possible to “argue about philosophy” without putting forward an alternative to religion or any hypothesis about reality.

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Mark Novaky February 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Depends what the argument is? If the debate is ‘Does God Exist’ that’s pretty straightforward, the answer doesn’t require me to ‘explain’ Evil or morality or my philosophical underpinnings of my life, just the facts OR lack thereof. Any other issue for an Atheist is an automatic LOSER, such as ‘Is God Great’ for obvious reasons. I think Patrick has it most right, Theists know their hand on physical evidence is slim to none, so you have to appeal to Philosophy or Emotion, Let’s be honest Theists have an easier sell, Immortality, Virgins, Paradise, sign me up LOL. I think the BEST debater against a Theist would be a trained Psychologist or Psychiatrist , knowing the emotional and fraternal needs that religion fills is important to finding suitable replacements. Don’t be fooled MOST Theists would NEVER be Atheists, they have those psychological needs mentioned above, at best you can hope for for most is some sort of ‘Humanist’.

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Dianelos Georgoudis April 16, 2011 at 7:07 am

Luke,

You write that one reason atheists lose debates more often than they should is the lack of time given that atheistic arguments are more complex than theistic arguments. I don’t think that this idea holds water; if atheist debaters needed more time they could ask for it. What’s more they don’t use their time to counter theism’s simpler arguments either. What’s worse, whereas there are dozens of arguments for theism (or against naturalism) of various strengths, to my knowledge there aren’t really any arguments for naturalism. Do you know of any? And the one good argument against theism, namely the argument from evil (in some of its various forms) is being debated by atheists, but not very successfully either it seems.

The second reason you give, namely that atheistic debaters are often not prepared, is I think spot on. I find it embarrassing how superficial the knowledge of the atheistic side in debates often is. And please observe that this asymmetry is evident even when the theistic side is not represented by a philosopher, like for example in the Dawkins versus Lennox debate. It looks for all the world as if atheists are characterized by a superficial command of the issues. And that’s a real problem, for an agnostic who cannot make head or tails of the arguments will notice that the theistic side is as a rule the more knowledgeable one, and figure that beliefs of the more intellectually diligent side are more probably true.

Another reason I’d like to suggest why atheists often lose debates is that they often argue from the some absurdities in the Bible. But of course very few theists are really Biblical literalists, and the sheer frequency of atheist debaters finding ammunition in the Bible only shows how little they have going for them. Take for example the recent debate between Sam Harris and W.L.Craig, where Harris, embarrassingly in my view, droned on and on about this or that terrible bit in the Bible or this or that terrible thing that theists had done, driving Craig to point out with some justification that these were red herrings. In his second debate against Lennox, Dawkins found nothing better than to hammer on than the virgin birth of Jesus, which Lennox, being a conservative Christian, defended with some élan. Which reminds me of another pattern present in such debates, namely that atheist debaters appear to shun progressive theists.

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James Gray April 16, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Dianelos Georgoudis,

The second reason you give, namely that atheistic debaters are often not prepared, is I think spot on. I find it embarrassing how superficial the knowledge of the atheistic side in debates often is. And please observe that this asymmetry is evident even when the theistic side is not represented by a philosopher, like for example in the Dawkins versus Lennox debate.

Right, Dawkins is not a philosopher and obviously is not the best person to debate theistic philosophers or sophists.

Another reason I’d like to suggest why atheists often lose debates is that they often argue from the some absurdities in the Bible. But of course very few theists are really Biblical literalists, and the sheer frequency of atheist debaters finding ammunition in the Bible only shows how little they have going for them. Take for example the recent debate between Sam Harris and W.L.Craig, where Harris, embarrassingly in my view, droned on and on about this or that terrible bit in the Bible or this or that terrible thing that theists had done, driving Craig to point out with some justification that these were red herrings. In his second debate against Lennox, Dawkins found nothing better than to hammer on than the virgin birth of Jesus, which Lennox, being a conservative Christian, defended with some élan. Which reminds me of another pattern present in such debates, namely that atheist debaters appear to shun progressive theists.

Yes, this is all certainly true about Harris in particular. I can’t say it’s true about everyone, though.

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CJS June 1, 2011 at 6:18 am

A factor to consider is that in ideologies, the contents of the ideology are held to be true by definition, and anything else to be false by definition. An ideologist wins an argument merely by repeating the contents of his ideology.

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John Brockbank June 30, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Morality is not objective. Christians changed the commandment from ‘Thou shall not kill’, to ‘You shall not murder’ because most of the Christians in the US want the death penalty. So Christians obviously think that morality is not objective but depends upon their opinion.

I agree with them about morality not being objective, but that does not mean that it follows they should be atheists. That is why I would lose an argument or debate with a Christian, because I am logical and reasonable and they aren’t.

A Christian of course would say that morality is objective and laid down by God in the Bible, and the changing of ‘thou shall not kill’ was an improvement in the translation only, not a change in the meaning.

If I challenge that by demonstrating my Christian upbringing by asking the Christian whether he really thinks that Jesus would support the death penalty in all cases where people have been executed then the Christian replies that Jesus upset the tables in the tenple.

You can not debate with smoke.

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