Well, all this is interesting to me, anyway, and that's what matters here. The Internet is a terrible thing for someone like me, who finds almost everything interesting.
Friday, March 2, 2012
The Atheist Experience: how not to debate an atheist
This is an excerpt from last Sunday's Atheist Experience TV show, episode #750, with hosts Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris.
I've got to say that I thought this was hilarious. Their caller, Eric, seems arrogantly convinced that he's the best debater in the world. Yeah, listening to him will convince any atheist. He's not one of those callers, those children, whom Matt can dominate, right?
So he's not just eager for a debate, he's convinced that he will win. It won't be like most debates, where people leave with pretty much the same opinions they arrived with. Oh, no. In fact, he's going to want the audience to vote at the conclusion of it, since even atheists will be convinced by his eloquence.
Matt goes along with this, but asks him to give just a sample of his brilliance. So this theist confidently announces that he's going to list "seven premises that will prove the point. They're very quick. They're like brainless. I mean, they're so simple I believe you'll agree with every one of them."
Note that Tracie is smiling broadly throughout this exchange. I think she knows exactly what's going to happen. And sure enough, Eric's first point is that "something cannot come from nothing." Heh, heh.
Now, I don't know how familiar you are with Christian apologetics, but that's an extraordinarily common beginning to an extraordinarily common argument that supposedly "proves" the existence of God in a logical progression. You're supposed to agree with every step, as the theist leads you to his inevitable conclusion.
The problem is that, while it might seem persuasive to the uninformed, someone who's never really thought about such things before (and who probably wants to believe in a god in the first place), it's not actually logical. And that very first premise goes off the rails immediately.
The fact is, we don't know that something can't come from nothing. We've never seen anything come from nothing, true, but so what? We've never even seen "nothing." What is nothing? How would we know if we'd encountered it? What are even the characteristics of nothing?
We know a little bit about an infinitesimally small part of the universe. One thing we know for sure is that there's a lot we don't know. So we aren't even close to being able to make dogmatic statements like that. It might be true and it might not. We really can't say.
The really funny thing is that this is exactly how atheists - most of us, at least - think about gods. How could an informed theist, especially a debater, not understand that? Maybe a god or gods exist, maybe not. It's possible, depending on exactly how you define the term. But we don't have any good evidence backing up the god hypothesis.
If you're going to claim there's a god - and expect me to accept that claim - you're going to have to make your case. The fact that I don't believe your claim doesn't mean that I'm claiming there isn't a god. I'm just saying that you haven't made your case. You haven't provided any good reasons for me to accept that what you claim is actually true.
This is the same way. If you claim that something doesn't some from nothing, make your case. Demonstrate that your claim is true. It's not up to me to demonstrate that you're wrong. You may be wrong or you may be right. But you have to make your case before I need to take you seriously.
There's nothing unique about any of this. It's a common claim of theists, and the skeptic's objection is also very well known. It's just hilarious that this confident, even bombastic, debater doesn't understand that. Who has he been debating, anyway? And this is after comparing other callers to children? It's beyond funny, don't you think?
As Matt points out, this is the argument from ignorance. The caller is trying to claim that, because we don't know, then his claim must be true. That's false. If we don't know, we don't know. You can't make any other assumptions, just because we don't know something.
I loved Matt's final line: "And if we do do a debate, I demand that there be a vote tally." Heh, heh. You know, I really don't think he was intimidated by this supposedly great debater, do you?
I'm a skeptic. I think it makes sense to have reasons for what I believe, so I apportion my belief to the evidence. You're welcome to disagree. Please, tell me I'm wrong. I probably don't agree with anyone about everything. Why should disagreement be a problem? Check the Pages section below for series posts and links to book reviews and game posts, as well as contact info. I have varied interests, so there's a little bit of everything here. I encourage you to look around. - Bill
We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true. - Robert Wilensky
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong - Richard Feynman
The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other. - Sir Francis Bacon
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science. - Hal Clement
No matter how many times a theory meets its tests successfully, there can be no certainty that it will not be overthrown by the next observation. This, then, is a cornerstone of modern natural philosophy. It makes no claim of attaining ultimate truth. In fact, the phrase "ultimate truth" becomes meaningless, because there is no way in which enough observations can be made to make truth certain and, therefore, "ultimate". - Isaac Asimov
The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. - Treaty of Tripoli, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams (1797)
I don't doubt the sincerity of dowsers, but even after we've demonstrated that they can't produce results that are any better than chance they'll still go away believing in their abilities... It is like the mother whose son is caught shoplifting on tape. She wonders why someone would want to frame her child by producing a fake video. - James Randi
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church ... imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. - Mark Twain
Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. - Bertrand Russell
A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche
I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. - Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.
This is not about proof. Science does not use proof. We favor evidence, and the work consists largely of the slow accumulation of evidence in support of ideas, not magically potent proofs that establish an idea as unassailable. - PZ Myers
No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. - President Barack Obama
The formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat. - Shekhar Gupta
We are prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs. - Carl Sagan
We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. - Richard Dawkins
120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. - Sam Harris
To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man. - Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in 1553
Democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can't take root. - Thomas L. Friedman
We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason. - Thomas Macauley, 1830
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men. - Edward R. Murrow
The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best - that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. - Thomas Huxley
There is no absurdity so obvious that it cannot be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to impose it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity. - Arthur Schopenhauer
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. ... Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. - President Thomas Jefferson
To be elected in America, no matter from what party, the candidates have no choice but to year after year pledge to lower taxes further and further. We have become the nation of Ken and Barbie, looking good but very poor at the math. - Rack Jite
Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them. - Steve Eley
We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. - President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle. - Molly Ivins
In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. - H. L. Mencken
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. - Winston Churchill