Thursday, July 26, 2007

On proof and doubt (aka The "God" debate)

A quick update on the timeline of this debate.

1. I tell Frank Walton that I could beat him at a debate so he challenges me

2. Frank is not capable of setting up a moderated forum for the debate and forfeits.

3. So that the effort is not wasted I post my opening statement for the debate as a blog and offer to answer any questions.

4. A user named Bnonn, from New Zealand offers to pick up where Frank left off. I accept and his rebuttal is posted on his blog.

5. I respond to Bnonn’s post

6. Bnonn responds back.

Below the conversation is continued. I have tried my best to shorten this up a bit. My voice is in bold print. Enjoy!

First and foremost I would like to thank you for your last reply. It has much less in the way of name calling and ad hominem attacks. I feel that we are better situated to move down the road towards an intelligent discourse now. I also want to thank you as I feel that this is the first time that I have actually debated a topic with someone in this online forum who has shown some degree of intelligence. It is rather refreshing. I am going to try my best to shorten this response a bit but given the amount of information that we seem to be dealing with here I think that it may be a challenge.

Your first point is as follows

then what of the over 100 million people killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in just the last century……more people in the 20th century were killed by secularist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals in the name of secularist ideologies, than in all the religious persecutions in Western history.

Because I have already dealt with this issues at length in my post entitled Now introducing “Ms. Information!” I will not go into it in great detail again here. I will say that there is a vast difference between the motivations of the evil secularist groups and the Christian groups that carry out these atrocities. Most Christian atrocities in our history have been carried out in the name of Christianity. The idea has been to further their religion by any means necessary. While there are many secularist regimes that have carried out evil atrocities they generally do not do so in the name of furthering any ideology other than their own personal quest for power. With that being said claiming that these secularist committed such atrocities because of atheism is similar to saying that they all did so because they wore hats.

Many times in these “secularist” led evil moments in history, religions tend to lend a hand regardless. This is often overlooked for obvious reasons. Here is a quote from the above mentioned link that may shed some light on what I am trying to say.

“Stalin of course was a known atheist but this particular instance was not a religious issue for him. It was a political one. What comes as more interesting though is that Stalin was working in tandem with the Jesuit’s also known as the” soldiers of Christ” who were actually the driving force behind convincing Stalin to use his army to “Liquidate their rival religion” of the Lutheran order!”

What does this prove about the truth of any ideology, religious or not?

Well if you are willing to concede that at least some of these atrocities were carried out in the name of religion then you would also have to concede that it said something about its ideologies. If Christianity's teachings were clear that violence and killing were wrong then these atrocities could in no way be attributed to the faith. The fact is that the Bible in many instances condones similar acts of violence as a means to further god’s word.

"Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." Numbers 31:16-18

In order to get from the proposition The Bible approves wars and atrocities to the proposition The Bible is therefore false, some kind of second premise is required.

Well I suppose that my second premise would have to be that if the god of the Bible is real and did allow these atrocities then he is not worthy of being served. This would directly contradict the Biblical claim that god is worthy of being served. If the Bible is the perfect, divine, inspired word of god, then it cannot contain even one contradiction.

However: if we accepted an empirical standard for the sake of argument, you nonetheless still failed to engage with what empirical evidence there is

Once again in regards to the particular topic that you are referring to, I did provide empirical evidence. I restated that evidence in my last post. If you consider that evidence invalid then that is one thing, but if you are simply ignoring it then we are not on track to have a constructive conversation.

In fairness, the thrust of my comment was, as per above, that you were being inconsistent.

If that is what you meant then this is actually the fallacy that you committed.

Angels, I never suggested that you had assumed the premise that God does not exist.

No? Then please explain the following statement taken from your initial response.

“Firstly, it amazes me that you would enter into a debate on the existence of God, but start it by assuming your own conclusion. The very question at hand is as to whether there is any proof for the existence of God! Are you not concerned that, by taking such a simplistic and childish approach to the topic, you will be exposed as a fool when your opponent offers some proofs for God's existence?”

Or this one.

“If you wish to assert that your claim, that God does not exist, is reasonable, and that the Christian's claim is unreasonable, then you must actually demonstrate this instead of just assuming it without proof.”

Moving on

You are being asked to disprove the existence of something that has absolutely no proof for its existence in the first place." I objected to this statement on the basis that we have not established that no such proof exists—and that, by assuming this, you have effectively closed your mind to the affirmative position, making the debate moot (excuse the pun). As I will show, there is a positive abundance of proof for the existence of God.

Yet these proofs have still not been presented.

Could I ask that you clarify your position regarding what burden of proof the atheist carries, and why?

I suppose that an atheist would have as difficult of a time answering this questions as a Christian would. Let me remind you though that I am not an atheist. (I am agnostic) Again, I do not feel that there is proof to support either side. If there was, then it would be unlikely that there would even be an existing debate on the topic.

With that being said, the atheist is not the one making a positive claim. This is the beauty of the scientific method, (which I fully endorse) if a positive claim is made, then there must be evidence to back it up. I do not want to speak for atheist (perhaps my wife would be better suited to answer this question as she is an atheist) but I believe that it is as absurd to require that they have to prove whether god is real or not. There is an equal amount of evidence for the existence of the Judeo-Christian god as there is for Isis, Thor, Zeus, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Allah, and batman. Yet we are not asking atheist to prove all of those things to be untrue. If you seriously wanted someone to take an argument for the existence of god seriously then you would need to start in the same way as you would with any other positive argument. That is by presenting evidence.

Nonetheless, your request for scientifically verifiable miracles does not make sense, either within your own worldview, or within mine. In my worldview, I contend that God upholds all things by the word of his power (Heb 1:3) and that in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Therefore, whenever someone is healed, whether by an apparently normal means or not, God is working.

Let me get this straight. You are claiming that even if someone was healed through the work of a doctor or through man made medicine, that it would be considered to be a miracle because it is ordained by god. This assertion assumes, without proof, that god is real. Furthermore if I were to accept this as true in addition to the firsthand account of Biblical authors we would still be left with a dilemma. Why did a steadfast and never changing god all of the sudden cease to bless us with extraordinary healings that don’t involve the interference of man? Why can’t we test someone with cancer to make sure their disease is real and then send them to a faith healer and test them again to see that they are healed? Why does god not want us to have evidence of his extraordinary works?

Then, within your own worldview, if a healing occurred which appeared to be exceptional in some way—that is, if there was no explanation for it according to our current understanding of science—you would surely not recognize it as a miracle per se.

Un-true, the very definition of a miracle would force us to accept it as such if it were not scientifically verifiable.

You would deny that it necessarily proves anything supernatural

Actually it would completely change my view. Do you have evidence to present?

Since your worldview assumes from the outset that everything operates according to mechanical, natural laws, with no God involved (correct me if I am wrong), you have a priori precluded the possibility of miracles, and so anything which the Christian might claim as a miracle would be dismissed as a phenomenon which merely requires further study.

You are wrong. My world view allows for the possibility that there could be a god, and so things could be explained in such a manner as to be attributed solely to him. I have not precluded the possibility of miracles, but rather have asked for you to show me an example of a miracle so that I can examine it for myself. It would seem that this whole course of discussion has simply been a way for you to avoid producing proof by substituting what you believe I will accept as a "plausible explanation."

In textual criticism, it is normal to treat an historical record as accurate until evidence arises which suggests otherwise…………………..Many archaeologists, for example, were skeptical of the existence of cities like Bethel and Dan, even considering them to be myths, until these places were discovered and excavated.

While I think that it would be agreeable that many of the cities mentioned in the Bible have been verified to be real cities what was in protest was lack of evidence for many of the events that the Bible says to have happened. It is reasonable to think that if someone created a story, that they could tell it as if it happened in a city they lived in or knew of. For instance Italy is written about extensively in Dan Brown’s “The Davinci Code.” We could certainly use his book as proof that the city existed but we would not suddenly consider his story to be true just because he got a few facts about the local area correct.

But is it even likely that a proud dynasty, whose ruler was supposed to be a god, would meticulously record a crushing defeat such as that under discussion? It is perhaps more probable that the next Pharaoh would declare the whole event be stricken from history.

Even so, there would be an immense amount of archeological evidence to back up at least some of the claims. For the amount of time that the Jewish people were in captivity on Egyptian soil you would expect remnants of their culture to be left behind. Do you mean to tell me that in addition to striking the defeat from the records that Pharaoh went around and made sure that every remaining artifact on Egyptian soil and in the dessert were completely destroyed? Maybe you mean to say that god took care of that evidence.

How about evidence of an entire Egyptian army swallowed up into the Red Sea. How was that cleaned up? Christians claim the Holy Bible to be the perfect inerrant word of god. If it is found to have one mistake or contradiction (which it has many of) then it can no longer claim to be as such. The Bible may be a mediocre and biased historical record at best but as the “word of god” it fails miserably.

As regards the accuracy of the New Testament, and its canon, you evidence similar prejudice. The original manuscripts of the New Testament were completed probably no later than 100 AD (not around 233 AD as you claim)

I submitted evidence for my date, please submit evidence for yours.

Furthermore, oral tradition need not be prone to error in the way we tend to assume. A little research into cultures in which oral tradition is maintained will reveal that it is remarkably accurate across vast periods of time—certainly one generation would not be a problem

This cannot be a serious claim. Tell me one other scenario where oral records are considered to be accurate. Even today the incredible inaccuracy of oral records can be shown to have little or no value. People tend to expand and elaborate on stories as they get passed. Could you imagine going to court for a speeding ticket and someone showing up to testify against you that was a friend of a friend of a friend of the police officer who issued the ticket. Would you consider it fair? Well the court wouldn’t. The court would demand the officer’s eyewitness account of the events. Is it too much to ask that I demand the same thing?

The gospels were all written by eye-witnesses, and barring an existing prejudice there is simply no reason to doubt them as historical records

This has already been said better than I can say it.

“Quite a few collections of stories about Jesus circulated in the early church, among them The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Secret Book of John. Some of these gave very different and in some cases conflicting accounts of the gospel and, most importantly, of Jesus' alleged resurrection. Some argued for the physical resurrection, with the mantle of leadership falling on those who had experienced it firsthand: the apostles. Others said the resurrection was a spiritual event that anyone could experience. Some thought this latter "heresy" would have led the church away from an organized entity into a situation where anyone could judge the truth for themselves. As Elaine Pagels points out in The Gnostic Gospel, this was no trivial matter. The decision on which interpretation was "correct" was central to the future of the church.……….. For now we'll just say that Iraneus, the bishop of Lyons in 180 AD, decided that the validity of any work had to be judged by whether it was "apostolic." That is, it should have been written by or for one of the twelve apostles. But, as Pagels goes on to say, regardless of whether the names given to the Gospels are those of the actual authors or merely reflect a claim to apostolic authority, "we know virtually nothing about the persons who wrote the Gospels."Cite

I would ask that you not cite examples taken from the Skeptics' Annotated Bible, since it does not list discrepancies which are born out of genuine textual criticism, but transparently seeks to compile every possible example of passages which an ignorant and credulous reader might take, at face value, to be in variance (therefore violating the "benefit of the doubt" principle I mentioned before).

If we cannot take the scriptures at face value then how are we supposed to take them? Very well then, I will select two contradictions for you to explain to me.

Just to be fair let’s start with some easy ones.

1. Is God all powerful?


Is anything too hard for the LORD? Genesis 18:14
Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do everything Job 42:1-2
Ah Lord God! ... there is nothing too hard for thee. Jeremiah 32:17
Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for the Lord? Jeremiah 32:27
With God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27
The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Luke 18:27

And the Lord was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. Judges 1:19
And he could there do no mighty work. Mark 6:5
It was impossible for God to lie. Hebrews 6:18

2. Is the Devil free to roam and tempt us?


For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. 2 Peter 2:4
And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day Jude 6

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8

I'm not interested in a dialog regarding the actual science of the Flood, per se—rather, I am going to simply use the science as a means to interact with the philosophy; the ideas and assumptions which must be true for the science itself to be cogent……………….This entire calculation is predicated upon the assumption that Mount Everest existed in its present form when the Flood began. This assumption, however, is clearly at variance with the biblical worldview, since most Christian scientists believe that the large proportion of tectonic activity which the earth has experienced occurred during, and possibly shortly after, the Flood itself. The objection assumes a "stable state" earth onto which the Flood abruptly poured, ignoring that the Bible teaches that the earth is only perhaps 7-8,000 years old.

O.k. then, let’s assume that the earth is only 7-8000 years old. In that amount of time what do you think is the largest possible growth that a mountain could have risen up to. Let’s say that Mt Everest was half the size it is now back in 7000 B.C. or whenever you want to assume that the great flood happened. If this was the case then we still need approximately 180 inches of rain per hour to fall from the sky for 40 days straight in order for it to cover the whole earth with water. Could you imagine this intense downpour and the damage it would have even on a boat. The water pressure alone would tear a wooden boat apart. This is not even taking into account the potential for water evaporation.

“The Flood could not have covered the whole world, it could not have laid down every sedimentary rock bed, and Noah could not have rescued every living species. The rocks put the lie to all that.”Cite

In other words, the history of science is all about being wrong. The principle of falsafiability itself is an open admission that a theory cannot be scientific unless it can be proved wrong.

Actually when something can be “proven” wrong it is no longer considered to be scientific. In order for something to be scientific it must be repeatedly testable and proven consistent over many trials.

what benefit do you see to the testing and re-testing in science, which you defend? You have implied that it is important, and that it makes science superior, but you have not stated why. What is the purpose of repeating an experiment, and why do you believe it is valuable?

This is not a serious question is it? If we can prove that something happens again and again over multiple trials then we can make strong assumptions about the possibility that it will continue to happen under those same circumstances.

For example, let’s say I have an electrical current flowing to a light bulb connected to a switch. When I turn on the switch the light comes on. I try again, and it comes on again. I have now tested the theory that the light will come on and can assume that it will continue to do so unless one of the variables changes.

Let’s look at the same experiment through the eyes of a divine creator. “God has commanded that the light bulb turns on when I flick the switch. It comes on because god has willed it so. If it ceases to come on then it is because god has ordained it not to. Allowing for multiple trials grants us the knowledge to know and manipulate our environment.

Attributing causes to a creator that may or may not be there leaves us rather helpless when things go wrong because we assume that they were meant to be. If this assumption is made then we are likely to sit complacently and let life wash over us like a wave. This type of mentality is very dangerous.


Bnonn said...

Hi Angels. I have now posted my response. Can you confirm that we will have one more round of statements before a 1500 word conclusion? If you would like, it seems only fair for the conclusions to be posted simultaneously, so as to not put you at a disadvantage.


angelsdepart said...

Bnonn, I had planned on concluding in my next post. So far I have not necessarily treated this as an actual formal debate. The traps laid in my opening statement were built for Frank not for you. I have felt as if though we were simply discussing these issues. If you feel that we should have another round of comments or that we should post conclusions at the same time I will oblige as my work schedule allows. Otherwise I plan on wrapping this up. Feel free to stop by anytime and comment on my blogs. I am very interested in your point of view.