Reposted from my old site.
Here’s my breakdown of the debate, following it as it developed.
What are we debating?
Neither debater says much about the actual topic: “God is a manmade invention.” Or at least, they don’t explain how their points are relevant to that topic. Instead, both debaters merely rant.
Since their points are so disconnected, I’ll respond to each debater point-by-point.
Dennett gives some facts about religion:
- Christianity is not growing.
- Islam is growing, mostly by having more babies than other religions.
- The nonreligious are growing the fastest.
Jump. New topic. He points out that America is more religious than Western Europe, but Western Europe has better “family values.”
- America has a higher homicide rate than Western Europe.
- And a higher rate of STDs.
- And a higher rate of teen pregnancy.
- And a higher abortion rate.
That’s all true. Dinesh won’t like that.
Dennett’s proposal for education
New topic. Dennett also proposes mandatory education of world religions. He says parents can teach their kids whatever they want, as long as schools teach them the basic beliefs of major religions. Why? Because the destructive versions of religion seems to come from the enforced ignorance of children.
Dennett gives some example facts about the world religions, then asks, “Do parents have the right to keep their children ignorant of facts like these about the world’s religions?” His answer is no.
I’m all for education. But can you require these facts be taught? How do you choose which facts are required, and which are optional? Plenty of parents want their kids to get as much education as possible. If they miss out on a few things, have they deliberately “kept their children ignorant of facts”?
New topic. Now Dennett says, “So, I think it’s pretty clear that religions are human inventions.”
What? If Dennett made an argument, I missed it. I agree that religions are human inventions, but I didn’t hear Dennett make that argument.
New topic. Now Dennett talks about Darwin’s great idea; that a complex and beautiful machine can be made without knowing how to make it. Things can just evolve.
New topic. Dennett points out that man’s picture of God went from specific to vague. At first, God was Yahweh: a personified, personal warlord who spoke audibly and appeared visibly to his people, got jealous, and made decisions. Now God is, for many people, a kind of “Ground of all Being.” He’s great, but he doesn’t have arms or legs, doesn’t speak or appear to us, doesn’t have emotions, etc.
Dinesh starts by rebutting Dennett.
He says religion is growing, worldwide. But the facts are unclear about this, and Dennett never claimed otherwise. Dennett cited numbers for Christianity, Islam, and the nonreligious.
Dinesh says, “There is Hinduism resurgent in India . . . not in [their number] but in the level of devotion.” Right. So it’s not growing.
He says Christianity is growing in Africa and South Korea. Yes it is. But it is not growing worldwide. It is only keeping up with population growth, or just barely surpassing it.
About Dennett’s proposal. Dinesh doesn’t object to the proposal, but to the “dripping, elitist contempt in which it is couched.” Okay. So Dinesh does support the proposal.
But we shouldn’t just teach religions, he says. We should also teach Darwinism, and how it influenced Social Darwinism and Nazism. I agree. (But we should also teach kids how much life-saving medicine evolutionary biology has given us.)
Dinesh points out that the Christian inquisition, crusades, and witch burnings didn’t kill nearly as many people as atheists. He is right.
Richard Dawkins said religious crimes were in the “name” of religion, but atheist crimes were not in the “name” of atheism. Dawkins is wrong. Atheist regimes specifically wanted to “create a new man, create a new Utopia, free from the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality” (quoting Dinesh).
Now to the debate’s topic. Is religion a man made invention?
Dinesh quotes Dennett as saying that religious doctrines contain no agreed-upon facts. To rebut this, he points out that a few of the Ten Commandments are “within the orbit of reason.” What? Morals are not “agreed-upon facts.”
Now Dinesh turns to the evidence for God’s existence. (What the hell are these two debating, anyway? Make up your minds.)
His first argument is that of First Cause. The universe had a beginning. Therefore God created the universe. Obviously, the argument is non sequiter.
His second argument is fine tuning. There are lots of values—the weight of a proton, the strength of gravity, etc. – that have to be just so for us to exist. Therefore, God must have set these values just right so we could evolve. Why should we assume God did it? Because we don’t know how else these values could be the way they are. That’s like saying “We don’t know how lightning works, therefore Zeus exists.”
Dinesh says we’ve been uncovering the intelligence of nature. He asks, “Who put it there?” That’s exactly what we used to ask about the intelligence of biology, until Darwin showed us that you don’t need intelligence to get complexity. Apparently Dinesh forgot.
New topic. Dinesh says the principles of science itself – that nature is lawful – is a Christian idea. False, of course. It is an ancient Greek idea. But what’s his point? How is that relevant to anything?
New topic. Dinesh agrees that evolution formed “our physical nature,” but says our mental nature must have come from God. Why? Apparently, he’s using another argument from ignorance. “We don’t know consciousness could have evolved, so it must be from God.”
New topic. Dinesh agrees with Dennett that religions are mostly man-made. They are part of culture.
What? The debaters agree on the topic of debate? I guess that’s just one more indication that this is not a debate, but two inept rants.
Now Dinesh says both he and Dennett are “agnostics” in that evidence can’t prove things like the nature of God. He uses the example of life after death. Dennett might object that there’s no evidence. Dinesh asks, “What does he want? Does he want someone to rise from the dead and give courtroom testimony?
Yes. Dennett wants evidence for such a bizarre claim as, “People continue to ‘live’ after death, without their bodies but in a non-physical ‘soul.’”
Dinesh says Dennett is like a cave man, who believes there is nothing else out there because his little instruments can’t see them. No, that’s not what Dennett is saying. Dennett doesn’t claim to have proved there is no god, only that there is no reason to believe that gods exist. We don’t have any evidence! The burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim.
Dinesh says that Dennett says “Since I can’t see consciousness under a microscope, consciousness doesn’t exist” and “Because a computer can compute like you can, it is human in a fundamental way.” Of course, Dennett claims no such things. This is an obvious straw-man attack from Dinesh.
Dinesh talks a lot about how Dennett denies free will (not true). Then he asks, “Why would anyone be attracted to a metaphysics that denies our subjective nature?” But the debate isn’t about how we want things to be, Dinesh. It’s about how things are.
New topic. Dinesh admits that he doesn’t know God exists. He chooses to believe. He says, “We are both reasoning in the dark, but [Dennett] won’t admit it!” Yes he does.
He then brings up Pascal’s Wager. He says you have nothing to lose if you bet on God, but everything to lose if you don’t bet on God. Pascal’s Wager is a terrible argument, as one of the audience members points out during Q&A.
Dennett points out that the ideas Dinesh mocked were “cartoon versions” of Dennett’s ideas. Dinesh was attacking straw men. Unfortunately, Dennett doesn’t get too specific. That’s why I was specific about Dinesh’s problems above.
Dennett points out a classic problem with the First Cause argument: “If the universe can’t create itself, how can God create himself?
Dennett is incoherant in his response to Dinesh’s fine tuning argument, mumbling something about “multiple universes.”
Dennett tries to excuse atheist murders by pointing out that their regimes had some characteristics of religion. True. But that doesn’t excuse these atheists for murder, or the influence of their atheism on those murders. Dennett even tries to say that Stalin wasn’t an atheist. That’s bullshit, Dan. You should know better.
Dinesh rages against Dennett’s special pleading about atheist genocides, and he’s quite right.
First Cause again
Dinesh clarifies his First Cause argument:
- Everything with a beginning has a cause.
- The universe had a beginning.
- Therefore, the universe had a cause.
- That cause, we call God.
Apparently, God doesn’t need a cause because he didn’t have a beginning. But does Dinesh have any reason to think God didn’t have a beginning? No. He just invents him as a being with no beginning. I could just as well invent a being called “Ganoosh” and claim she had no beginning, therefore she invented the universe.
Finally, the fourth point comes out of nowhere. Has Dinesh ever read the first chapter of a logic book? That is not an argument.
Fine tuning again
Dinesh rightly points out there is no evidence for multiple universes.
Dennett’s second response
Dennett admits that he doesn’t know any better than Dinesh what explains the laws of nature.
He points out that an intelligent creator is not a good explanation, though, because it only leads to “What created the intelligent creator? Isn’t that even more unlikely and marvelous than a few laws?” Quite right.
Dennett admits that any idea can be misused. Good. Both theists and atheists do plenty of evil, and that has nothing to do with the truth of their claims about the world.
Dinesh’s second response
Dinesh agrees with Dennett that morality does not require religion. But he doesn’t accept that morality could have evolved. It must have come from God. Sigh. This is yet another argument from ignorance.
Then he says our modern morality is better than ancient morality because of Christian ideals. Christian-influenced European nations are more charitable than non-Christian Eastern countries. Seriously, Dinesh? Christianity is among the bloodiest of all religions! Compare Christianity to Hinduism or Buddhism. Maybe one reason Western countries are more charitable is that they have more to give. They are rich.
He then says Christians “led the only anti-slavery movement the world has ever known.” Holy hell that’s bad history!
Excusing religious wars
Now Dinesh tries to excuse religion from all its atrocities. He says religious wars are about land, not religion. Sure, there are some political elements in all conflicts, but yes religions are often fighting about religion. Good Lord, Dinesh. Read your history.
Besides, Dinesh can’t force Dennett to accept responsibility for atheist atrocities, then say “But religions are excused for religious atrocities.” Nonsense.
Argument from religious experience
Dinesh closes with a brand new argument. What a fucked up debate. Makes me appreciate William Lane Craig.
Dinesh says that Christians don’t need evidence because they have experienced God personally.
A common argument against this is “So, people who experience UFOs are justified in their belief? Dinesh’s rebuttal is that millions of people believe in God. But popularity is no argument. All humans used to think the earth was flat. And besides, millions of people have experienced Allah or Krishna or ghosts. Are they all as justified in their belief as you, Dinesh?
Of course not. Personal experiences are highly unreliable. Especially when they are 100% mental, even by the believer’s own admission. Dinesh accepts this with regard to all other religions and paranormal ideas, but not with Christianity. No, those experiences are real.
Dinesh got most of the questions in Q&A. The audience asked things like:
- If everything has a cause, how is God exempt from that?
- How do you get from “there is a creator of the universe” to believing the complex irrationalities of Christianity?
- If you agree that evolution formed our physical natures, why do you deny that it formed our brains?
All good questions. Dinesh avoids answering any of them.
The debate was terrible. It seemed to me Dinesh was evasive, dishonest, and inept. Dennett was merely inept.
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