Tag Archives: debate

Fact-checking the Craig/Rosenberg debate

Fact-checking the Craig/Rosenberg debate.

I ran across an interesting response to the Craig/Rosenberg debate. It gives a point for point analysis (which I’m still reading through), and encourages a discussion.

I’ve taken the author up on the offer, as I found the debate interesting myself.

Reason versus Ridicule

anti-intellectual_dunceThough I’ve not yet had time to listen to the most recent debate between Richard Dawkins and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, I can’t let the Gaurdian report on the event pass without comment. Mostly, I was appalled at the focus of the article.

So, what was that focus? What did the reporter think most interesting about a Cambridge debate on the future of religion?

Dawkins made a penis joke.

It is unfortunate enough that a man trusted to represent the sciences at Oxford so often resorts to antics, relying on junior high humor and ridicule rather than cogent arguments in order to “promote reason”. It is worse when many in the audience, even those who write for the Guardian, are so quick to buy into cheap giggles that they forget to think.

Even the subtitle of the article implies that this joke is the important issue, downplaying the loss (saying that Dawkins lost “on paper”–which is an odd way of saying that the anti-religious motion was voted down by a large majority of the audience).

It seems that the writer is either so committed to Dawkins’ views that he’s uninterested in the arguments – or that he actually likes the idea that Cambridge debates could be turned into potty joke contests.

I’m not sure which idea bothers me more, but the former, if less obviously silly, isn’t any less anti-intellectual.

But there is a ray of hope in this. Apparently, at least most in the audience weren’t so impressed by the penis joke that they voted in favor of Dawkins regardless of the issues. Still, that so many have been willing, even eager, to let him get away with claiming that crass insults and ridicule somehow promotes reason and scientific thinking shows something of a breakdown in the quality of academia.

The article closes with the suggestion that Dawkins would make a good comedian. In one sense, he already is one. What’s been called reason and science by the New Atheists is actually a series of stand-up style quips and jokes designed to embarrass their opposition.

William Lane Craig vs. Alex Rosenburg

As a quick break from my series on Bertrand Russell, I enjoyed watching the debate between Dr. Craig and Dr. Rosenburg this week. Obviously, my own views are much more in line with Craig’s, but I must say that I appreciate Rosenburg’s courage in accepting the strange conclusions which follow from scientism (even if I found him a bit caustic). He rightly sees that the popular belief that science describes all of reality has some very counterintuitive (I would say “incoherent”) results.

I may write up some of my thoughts on Craig in the future, but, as for Rosenburg, I doubt I can add anything of value to what Dr. Edward Feser has already written. This is also a series, but worth looking over if you’re interested in the debate over naturalism.

Got Evidence?

It’s been some time since I’ve run across anyone on the internet who, taking a cue from the milk campaign, ended an anti-theistic polemic with the refrain “Got Evidence”, but the spirit of this concept is alive and well.

On some levels, I completely agree with it. Certainly, it is rational, upon hearing a claim, to ask for reasons to believe it. I don’t imagine that any but the most ardent fundamentalist would disagree with such a concept. Of course, I complained for years that the standards of evidence being used were both wildly and arbitrarily exacting (which they were), and that equal standards were not being applied to the alternatives.

That last statement is what made the conversation interesting.

It seems to come as news to many secular individuals that they have a position at all. Many seem to think that, as a Christian, I accept everything they do, then add belief in God to that. To be clear, I completely agree that this would be unparsimonious at best and wildly inconsistent at worst.

But, then, if the anti-theist wants me to accept this idea – that all of his or her answers to the questions of life are more valid than those presented by Christianity – I’m going to ask for reasons to believe that.

I am strongly of the position that there are atheists who would be happy to take a stab at providing those reasons. I’m open to the idea that some may even have them. But, as an autobiographical point, I’ve never encountered such people. Every atheist to whom I’ve made this request (and it has been quite a few), has declined the offer.

I really don’t think this says much about atheists in general. Rather, I think it says something about self-selecting. Those who are on blogging sites, arguing that Christianity is stupid and evil (two of the less colorful adjectives I’ve encountered), seem to have a particular mindset that cannot be assumed to hold for the group. Still, it seems more than a little problematic that people who loudly declare that one should believe nothing without evidence are not remotely prepared to give any in support of their beliefs.

For this reason, among others, I’m inclined to think that all this talk of “evidence” is rhetoric, rather than a serious request. Whatever I may think of the ethics of that (and I don’t think much of it), I’m left feeling that I’m under no obligation to impress such people. Increasingly, I’m disinclined to share the reasons I do have for my beliefs until they can offer reasons for their own position.

This may leave me open to the accusation that I’ve become somewhat less than charitable (though I try to be kind). What it is not, however, is unreasonable. To insist on that one’s view, for which one has no evidence, is correct on the grounds of demanding evidence for other views is clearly something less than rational. Certainly, the self-proclaimed champions of reason should avoid such an obviously fallacious approach.

Worldview versus Worldview


As of late, I’ve been trying to re-visit the concept of a worldview. That is, I’ve been trying to look at approaches to life as a series of answers to the questions presented all of us, wondering which set is most satisfactory.

This seems to be my point of departure from nearly all of the discussion on religious matters to be found online. It seems to me that the conversation seems to lend itself to religious individuals citing their own scripture as evidence for its truth, to atheists claiming that their position is somehow the default set of answers until others can be so proved, and agnostics claiming that the whole subject is so thoroughly outside the reach of human understanding that we should simply abandon the search for answers.

ImageThere are, of course, thoughtful people within all these groups. Still, I don’t think it is too much to say that the general tone is one of circular reasoning. Yes, if we believed a particular set of scriptures were inspired, we’d accept the religion it describes. If we believed that materialism is the position to take until some other one can be proved, we would be atheists. If I believed it were possible to live life without answering questions of ultimate origin, meaning, ethics, and so forth, we would be agnostics.

However, it seems that very little is being done to show that any of these three basic claims are true. As such, people mostly talk past one another in an increasingly angry fashion. Though I am a strong opponent of scientism, we’d do well to take a cue from science. That is, we should ask the big questions of life, then ask ourselves which “theory” gives the most satisfactory answers to those questions.

If the debate begins here, I expect that there will be much more potential for progress. It would end this process of comparing apples to oranges and encourage each of us to, at the very least, take a look at the potential weaknesses of our view.

Debate Fatigue

Having spent more than five years consistently debating religious topics online, I’ve come to quite a number of conclusions. I’ve realized that debate can stretch the mind, and that I was far too sure of my own expertise, among many other things.

I’ve also realized that there’s little more to be gained from it.
I really don’t mean to be dismissive; there is a great deal of good that has come from the experience. Still, the area of thinking which can be exercised in such debates is highly specific.

Though I am sure an atheist encounters similar problems, that she would label somewhat differently, my experience has slowly become an argument against what I call “perpetual incredulity”.

I do not mean to argue against a general skeptical approach. I fully agree with atheists that we should draw our conclusions carefully. Or, rather, I agree with those atheists who actually do so. As often, I’ve encountered a non-believer who, while ostensibly championing rationality, refuses to admit anything which could be construed as favoring theism – regardless of the actual facts.

While it may seem effective in debate to declare that there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence pointing to theism, or that ignoring a claim can be equated with neutrality toward it, this is where I lose interest. Far from impressing me, I’m left feeling like I’m butting against a mind as closed as any fundamentalist.

Slowly, I’ve come to see that it is only those who realize that there are reasonable people on both sides of the argument, and, by extension, there are reasonable arguments on both sides, that are worth attention. Those who see nothing reasonable about those across the divide can never understand more than the most unreasonable part of the opposition. That is, they can never understand the debate in more than its crudest form.

There, of course, is the balance that reason demands. Judgmentally concluding that the opposition has no rational case is as detrimental as pseudo-intellectually refusing to take a position. These are traps for the intellectually lazy; the greatest minds avoid them.

And this is the last challenge of debate, I think. To abdicate neither to unthinking strife nor unthinking diplomacy. There comes a time, however, where those are the only paths remaining if one wishes to remain involved in such discussions on the web. It does not take a herculean effort to exhaust the intellectual level of a popular debate. While one may occasionally contribute in spite of this, I find the repetitive demands that I undeniably support every statement I make – in the eyes of an opponent determined to deny – a pointless and exhausting one.

Frustrating though this is, I happily endured it until it became boring. That is to say, until I began to ask what alternative view of morality and meaning in life were being supported by my opponents – and was told that there was no answer.

That was the point at which I lost all interest in listening to those individuals’ attacks of my position. We’ve all known relentless critics, and I’ve never known them to contribute nearly so much as they destroy.

Reclaiming the Middle

I’ve written several comments on the modern popular movement of atheists, which, if it is not running out of steam, is at least in need of new leadership. Christopher Hitchens has died. Richard Dawkins refuses to debate his primary challenger, as well as (I assume) anyone described by the reasons he gave for his refusal. Dennet and Harris seem also to be waning in their public exposure.

I do hope that this will herald a return to thoughtfulness and courtesy on the part of the majority of atheists (special thanks to those of you who never left). But it does seem to be the case that, whenever it is that the energy of this movement is spent, religion will still be here. Christianity (like any major religion) has faced many beatings over many generations, and shows no signs of a mortal wound.

My hope is, then, that the (very necessary) criticism the church receives will, likewise, herald a growth in reflection and empathy. I’m starting to see a movement in the church which promotes the serious study of logic and apologetics – that recognizes that our intellectual sloth has been far too great.

I don’t think it is too unrealistic to hope that the silent middle is beginning to reassert itself, letting militant religious groups and militant atheist groups alike know that we are not interested in labeling either side as villains. Rather, we believe that learning to live together with respect and love is paramount.

I should hope that we take this to heart. I’m sure that fundamentalism of all kinds will be forever with us, but I do hope we find a way to make their voice relative to their actual population. To that end, I would definitely be pleased to see a compassionate and reflective voice begin to overshadow the emotive sound-byte debates I’ve seen across the internet.