Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A response to a response

Bnonn posted a refutation of my opening statement for the debate about the existence of god. My response to him is in the bold print

you then proceed to introduce your topic by making an introspective and obviously passive-aggressive commentary regarding the history and motivation of religion, without citing any kind of empirical evidence for your various claims-.

First and foremost please keep in mind that the original rules for my opening were to keep it under 1500 words. I would have loved to go into more detail. With that being said you claim that I did not provide any empirical evidence for any of my claims regarding history and the motivation of religion. I think that it is obvious that you did not click on the links that I provided in the document itself.

The first link under “horrible actions” list the many victims of the Christian faith. It covers the persecution of pagans including the destruction of pagan temples and the death of anyone worshipping any other god’s than the Christian one. It moves on to the Crusades to which the timeline and death toll are horrifying. Then it moves on to the murders of “heretics” and “witches.” Then it starts into the long history of religious wars and Christianities involvement in the persecution of the Jewish people as well as native peoples. Then there are some stories regarding the Nazi extermination camps specifically for children that were run by Catholic priest. There is even a video that was posted on YouTube.com and on Frank Walton’s page that asked atheist why Christians should even let atheist live. The Christian Bible certainly supports this kind of behavior.

Your little dissertation sounds rather like a conspiracy theory, starting with an obvious falsehood ("the arguments for God are typically from emotion and introspection"), moving directly into implicit and unjustified premises (that arguments for God should be empirical in nature; and that empirical arguments are sound), and then proceeding on to provide a speculative, unsubstantiated, and frankly bizarre explanation of the topic at hand.

You chastise me here for saying that evidence for god should be empirical and that empirical evidence is sound. You say that this premise is unjustified. In the previous quote you chastise me for not citing any empirical evidence. You do realize that you can’t have it both ways. If you are going to say that empirical arguments are not sound then you cannot attack me for not having one.

You don't lend yourself any credibility by being a hypocrite.

You seem to have a working knowledge of logical fallacies. The particular one you have used here is called Poisoning the well

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?

There is nothing in any statements that I have made that assume that god does not exist. If nothing else I think I have been pretty clear about my position. My position is that no one can know. There are more than two answers to “does god exist.” Mine is that there is no way to know and that I have not yet seen evidence to suggest that he does. I am not worried about being exposed as a fool either. This would be the best thing that could happen. If I were to assume that god wasn’t real and the an opponent were to offer me proof of his existence then I would accept god and his teachings, thus being “saved” and I would go to heaven. If god is real then I hope someone can prove me to be a fool. Your third sentence contains a fallacy called the personal attack

Secondly, what relationship does the alleged lack of proofs for God's existence have with the possibility of proofs for his non-existence? To offer an empirical analogy, there is no proof that light has mass; yet there is plenty of proof that it does not.

Yes, that was the point of my whole article. No proof either way. I never claimed that there were proofs for the non-existence of god either. I claimed that there was no method of knowing for sure on either side.

Accepting this for now (though it is not a law of logic, but rather a convention of debate), how do you know that it is the Christian who is making the fantastic or outrageous claim, and not yourself? It is my contention that atheism is a claim so fantastic and outrageous that the Christian need not offer any proof for his position; but rather, he need simply destroy the atheistic worldview and leave the biblical one standing in its place, to be assumed by merit of its obvious truth.

Here you are committing the false dilemma fallacy. You are saying that for your viewpoint to be true all you have to do is destroy the atheistic worldview. I did say that the Christian claim is fantastic and outrageous but I never claimed that the atheistic view was not. To put those words in my mouth makes you guilty of the strawman fallacy. This is where you ignore my position and substitute a misrepresented position for me. It is usually a very effective fallacy because people tend to take you at your word and not actually research the source materials for themselves.

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. Since you have already accepted a formal debate on the topic, you have implicitly acknowledged in so doing that both positions require equal scrutiny.

Again, I never asserted that god does not exist. In formal debate the burden of proof is often placed on one side or the other. In this case we are saying that it relies on the side of the ones making the outrageous claims. Some outrageous claims that Christians make are as follows

1. God will heal the sick

2. God can cure cancer

3. God will take care of you in your time of need

4. God answers prayer

5. God can raise people from the dead

Yet despite these claims we have absolutely no evidence that god has accomplished any of these objectives. With the introduction of the scientific method it appears that these miraculous occurrences have somewhat become a thing of the past. If I am wrong, then I am excited to hear you empirical evidence where any of the above 5 assertions have been witnessed in a scientifically verifiable environment.

The various assertions you've made so far seem basically to undermine the entire formal debate process. This leads me to the suspicion that you are simply unequipped from an intellectual and/or argumentative point of view to actually engage anyone in such a debate.

Two whole sentences of the personal attack fallacy

What is circular about citing historical records in support of a premise? Is it circular reasoning to cite Plato's Apology in support of the existence of Socrates? Certainly, our single extant copy of that work, separated in origin from the events it describes by over half a century, is far less reliable than the hundreds of accurate biblical records we have, which are further corroborated by secular records and archeology. You are assuming the consequent again; your reasoning essentially is: God does not exist; the Bible attests to God's existence; therefore the Bible is not an accurate record.

Strawman again? I never asserted that god does not exist. I do not state that the Bible is not a valid historical record because I assume that god doesn’t exist. I state that it is not a valid historical record because of the overwhelming amount of evidence against it. Here are a few examples for you.

1. We have an extensive knowledge of Egyptian history yet there is no archeological or documented evidence of Jewish slaves, the seven plagues, an entire Egyptian army that was swallowed up by the Red Sea or thousands of slaves wandering in the dessert for 40 years. You would think that we would be able to find something to support the claims made in the book of Exodus. Cite

2. The stories of the life of Jesus were passed on for a long time through an oral tradition. There was not a huge desire to write them down since they believed that the end of the world was coming soon. There were many different accounts of the life of Jesus and a massive game of “telephone” began. While the original authors of the gospels cannot be verified what can be verified is that they were written between 30-200 years after the death of Jesus. Some of the gospels disagree with each other on various events and offer us many contradictions to attempt to resolve. The books that would eventually become the New Testament were decided by a popular vote of bishops at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. In this vote many books were left out that the church felt would be confusing including a testament supposedly written by the prostitute Mary Magdalene and a testament of Peter that claimed that non-believers that died and went to hell would have a second chance to repent and reap the rewards of heaven.

Typically when the creation of a document is flawed and the data in the document contradicts itself we tend to think that the document does not have any value.

But again, this is the very question at hand, and if the Bible is an accurate record, then it does constitute empirical evidence for God's existence.

So then you agree that if the Bible is a contradictory and flawed document then it does not constitute empirical evidence for god’s existence right?

The precise nature of that evidence should probably be debated, but to simply dismiss it reveals a strong prejudicial assumption which is completely contrary to the intent of the debate. If you are going to refuse the Bible as an empirical proof, then you must explain why. Since its accuracy can be established extremely strongly, I would suggest that you will have to appeal to historical skepticism, which makes any historical proof impossible—but that could have unfortunate consequences for your position as well, as I will mention below.

Well I have not dismissed it. Here is an entire list of Biblical contradictions for you to browse through.

Firstly, let us be done with the "what Christians are trying to present to us" line, and stick carefully to what the Bible presents about God.

But wait, aren't you a Christian trying to present to me what the Bible says about god? Click the above link and explain the countless inconsistencies then.

Many people claim to be Christians but have utterly no idea who God is. So, secondly, can you please explain the inconsistency you perceive between God's actions toward man, recorded in Scripture, and God's character, also recorded in Scripture? God is certainly loving and forgiving, but he is also holy and righteous, just and jealous, and wrathful toward sin. Your argument appears to hinge upon a misrepresentation (or at least a misunderstanding) of God's character. A correct understanding of both theology proper, and anthropology, will reveal no inconsistency whatsoever.

This is a claim without proof. You are assuming it to be true. This is commonly referred to as the composition fallacy.

Rather than engage in an extensive detour so as to educate you to the point where you are competent to engage in a debate which you have already accepted, I would direct you toward a series I have written titled 'On Strawmen', which should adequately correct your misconceptions about biblical teaching.

Questioning my competence in place of attacking my arguments is again, the personal attack fallacy.

This is a large area of study, and one in which you are apparently ignorant if you are seeking to use it in defense of the secular position

Personal attack again.

The existence of flood myths in various cultures constitutes a compelling proof for the actual occurrence of the flood described in Genesis. You are presupposing that all these myths are simply invented, which is clearly a far more extraordinary claim than to suppose they all have a common basis in fact.

There are floods all over the world and for people that are not aware of the size of the world; it is understandable how they would think that if their little portion of the globe flooded then it must be the entire world flooding. The idea of a global flood is not only unachievable through any sort of natural method but also is archeologically falsifiable.

“Mount Everest is the highest mountain "under the whole heaven." It reaches an altitude of 29,028 feet, which would be a height of 348,336 inches. For enough rain to fall in a period of 40 days to reach the peak of this mountain, the cloud formations would have to drop 8,708 inches of rain per day uniformly over all the earth. This would amount to 363 inches per hour or six inches per minute. Can any reasonable person believe that it once rained continuously for 40 days and nights at an average rate of six inches per minute? A rainfall of six inches in one day is a veritable downpour. What would six inches per minute sustained for 57,600 continuous minutes be like?” Cite

If you want to keep going with this we can discuss the improbability of the ark being able to house two of every animal and the possibility to Noah being able to redistribute all of the animals to their appropriate regions after the flood.

You seem to think that Christians are always of subpar intelligence. Yet, I have shown so far that your opening statement is replete with logical fallacies, errors, and unjustified assertions, and virtually devoid of any genuine logical reasoning whatsoever.

Strawman again! I never said that Christians were of subpar intelligence. I said that religion gives people with subpar intelligence the motivation to keep living, working and producing for their societies. How did you interpret this to mean that Christians all have subpar intelligence? Are all religious people Christians? I would ask that you read through my document again without bias so that you can truly understand what is being said. You yourself have already made the distinction in your response here of the difference between god’s word and those that represent him. This is a similar differentiation.

So, at best, you would appear to be on the same level as you allege for these Christians. That said, this is an obvious example of argumentum ad hominem, and, even if true, proves nothing whatsoever about the truth of Christianity. Certainly there are some stupid Christians (at least by your measure of stupidity); yet equally you will be forced to acknowledge that there are many stupid atheists (yourself included, as I have shown).

OK here is an example of Ad Hominem.
Person A makes claim X.
Person B makes an attack on person A.
Therefore A's claim is false.

Where did I attack you then say that you claim was false?

Oh, and yes there are many stupid atheist and many intelligent Christians. As a matter of fact one of the most intelligent people I have ever known is a Christian. Please point out where I said that all Christians were stupid.
By the way, your last sentence is a great example of Ad Hominem.

However, given the abundance of believers in the high ranks of academia, past and present, it is simply absurd to claim that Christianity is applicable to only those of subpar intelligence. I would offer that John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Gordon Clark, or Vincent Cheung are not the sorts of people anyone could call stupid without being mocked.

Wow I wouldn’t be using people like John Calvin to further your arguments for good upstanding Christians. I admit in advance that this is Ad Hominem but it is worth noting.

“Calvin believed that execution of dissenters was important not simply because it rid the world of heretics but also the public staging of it will send fear into the hearts of would-be apostates. Thus when a prominent citizen of Geneva, Jacques Gruet, complained about Calvin's increasing control over the affairs of the city, Calvin had Gruet executed by being burned alive. Sometimes he would give dissenters a choice between death or repudiating their works by making these heretics personally burn their books themselves.” Cite

Further, how do you know that Christianity has some "vague moral values", and that "the idea that God is necessary for moral behavior is not necessarily true"?

Because people that have never heard of God have similar moral codes.

What moral standard are you using to make such an allegation? What proof do you have that moral behavior was "developed through a meme as a means of survival"? You are again begging the question, thus basing your argument upon the very conclusion you are trying to prove. This would appear to be a very embarrassing thing for you to be doing, considering the way in which you lambast Josh McDowell for that exact fallacy (worse, in fact, since it is far from clear that McDowell actually commits that fallacy in the way you claim!)

The meme theory is just a theory. I never claimed it to be true, just one possible explanation. I do not think that you are in any position to attack me for using logical fallacies though. As a matter of fact the only concrete claim that I am making is that we do not know anything for certain. If you are right submit your proof.

Firstly, in order to draw the conclusion that this shows that moral behavior evolved, one would first have to assume evolutionary theory—at which point, you're effectively begging the question. It could, of course, equally be the case that the causality goes the other way: that is, that killing, raping, stealing and so on are evil because God has given human life a certain value, and these things are destructive to life.

First I am not begging the question because I have made no conclusions. Second you are begging the question by assuming that god has given human life a certain value. Let me show you.

1. God has given human life value

2 Because human life has value killing, raping and stealing are destructive to life.

X Assumption that god exist Cite

Secondly, neither your own view of morality, nor the biblical one (and they are quite different) comports with evolutionary theory in any case. For example, in your case, from an evolutionary point of view survival of the group is the ultimate good, and there is no means which is not acceptable to this end.

Not True. You are assuming that there is an ultimate good. Evolution does not assume an ultimate good. Evolution has no course and no purpose. Life adapts to an ever changing environment. I actually never understood why Christians didn’t embrace this. If god was going to create an ever changing world, then why wouldn't he create creatures that adapted continuously to an ever changing environment?

Therefore, there is no reason for individuals to not suffer, or for other groups to not be entirely destroyed, if it furthers this end. At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, an evolutionist can certainly not criticize Stalin or Hitler (or war in general), since they were simply working to achieve the end of the survival of their groups, at the expense of others. Evolutionary theory, in fact, makes the concept of morality quite unintelligible, and one of the approaches I would take in refuting your worldview would be in showing this at more length.

Strawman, I never stated that my position was survival of groups “AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.” Again you have misrepresented my position. I also never claimed to agree with evolutionary theory 100%. I didn’t even address it. I just offered one tidbit as a plausible explanation. One thing that you seem to be confused about is that evolutionary theory does not deal with morality. It is simply a theory on the progression of life.

The biblical view of morality also does not comport with evolutionary theory; or, more precisely, it comports far better with a state of affairs where God actually exists. Consider, for example, the first three of the Ten Commandments: to have no other God, to make no idols, and to not take the name of God in vain. These are the first of the commandments—what survival advantage do they convey? The only possible answer I can see is if you suppose that it is to encourage the cohesion of the group under a single religion. But if this is the case, then you have no basis to criticize this system of morality (yet atheists frequently do).

The first three commandments have nothing to do with the cohesion of a group. You are assuming in your argument that god is real and you haven’t even taken steps to offer proof. Let’s pretend that the preceding were performed by a group of people though. Of course they don’t have a survival advantage. This would actually be evidence that they were unnecessary. This is unless of course the people that committed these actions were suddenly struck down by god. Then, following these rules would have a distinct survival advantage. If uttering the word “god dammit” were going to get you struck down by god then it would be rare that you would hear someone say it. Have ever heard anyone say that word?

If it is an evolutionary system, then an evolutionist ought to approve the actions of the Israelites in destroying other cultures, and killing those of their own people who disobeyed the commandments. Strangely, few evolutionists take this position. This highlights an inconsistency that belies the real state of affairs, and puts you in a catch-22: either you should accept biblical morality, or you should come up with another theory about how morality works. Secular humanism asserts the equal rights and inherent value of all human beings—which is a decidedly un-evolutionary sort of moral assertion. It also relies on some kind of concept of "rights" and "value" which simply doesn't exist in a materialist, evolutionary worldview.

I think I need to use your own words to respond to this.

“to provide a speculative, unsubstantiated, and frankly bizarre explanation of the topic at hand.”

Please tell me what the Israelites killing other cultures and killing their own people has to do with anything that we have discussed here. If actually does then tell how you reconcile using this example given the inconstancies in the story itself?

But what does this prove? Your statement seems to suppose an implicit moral judgment, which is that science is superior to Christianity by reason of its ability to admit when it is wrong. But consider:Firstly, you are supposing that Christianity is wrong, and that it refuses to admit it. Again, this is really the very question at hand, so you are again question-begging.

Secondly, you are supposing that science's "flexibility" makes it a superior method of discovering truth. But the very basis for this supposed flexibility is the fact that, so far, it has always been wrong, and has had to revise its theories for this reason. In other words, you are claiming that a method which openly results in error, and which can never prove that it is right even if it is, is a superior knowledge-acquisition process to that of divine revelation, which is never wrong and never needs revision!

You have to be kidding me. There are so many errors in the Bible. I have listed several. Then you are going to say that the flexibility of science is a flaw. If I am wrong about something and I admit it, correct it and present the new right answer to the world, then you would take issue with me? Science is a way of knowing things by testing and re-testing. Do you understand the many things that you would be without in this day and age without the trial and error process? Electricity, telephone, the computer that you are typing this on. Seriously, do you think that god created all of those things?

What does the behavior of Jesus' followers have to do with the truth of his claims? I have personally met a lot of Christians, and most have been moderate, intelligent people with an enthusiasm for knowledge and reason—an enthusiasm informed by a proper understanding (albeit often an implicit one) of the underlying issues of epistemology, which are critical to any pursuit of these things. They are certainly not hateful (unless you mean they hate sin), un-accepting (except, again, of sin), and neither name-call nor engage in bigotry. They do not insist on everyone becoming a Christian.

This is an appeal to popularity. Although I will admit that my assertion was based on experience, I don’t believe that I ever stated that this was reminiscent of “all Christians.” Did you click on any of the links for examples though? You are quick to cast off those that claim Christianity but "embarrass" the faith, while claiming all of those close to you who you feel "embrace" it. Do you know the name of this fallacy?

Perhaps you are thinking of extreme Muslims. A Christian preaches the good news because he is commanded to in Scripture, and desires to see souls saved rather than damned in hell. But he does not insist on people becoming Christians, and indeed he knows that they cannot apart from God's sovereign work in their hearts.

So, not only have you misrepresented Christians, but you've engaged in another ad hominem attack. If this is the most powerful argument you can muster by way of closing, I don't hold out much hope for your further statements in this debate. That said, I understand that Frank is not planning to respond, since you have not chosen to pursue the debate on the terms he originally requested (ie, a formal and moderated forum).

As far as Frank is concerned, he only needed to ask for more time. I was not willing to be dragged along indefinitely by him especially after fielding well over 80 inflammatory comments. At first glance it appeared that your response was intelligent, collective and civil. I have witnessed nothing but name calling, empty assertions and strawman attacks. I am happy to continue this debate, but I suggest that you continue in a civil tone. If you feel that I have not been civil please point it out and I will do my best to accommodate in future conversations.


tina said...

I'd say,"well said", but I don't know much about a debate or whatever you guys are having. You sounded extremely intelligent and clear to me. Good job!:)

breakerslion said...

Thank you for fighting the good fight. You are a better man than I. This was a long post and it made me a little bleary-eyed because of your background (Rabbititis!)

I find myself no longer able to hold civilized discourse with the delusional. The last straw came when one tried to convince me that there was nothing wrong with using circular logic. All I could see in my mind's eye was a four year old kid, brandishing a cat turd, and gleefully telling his mom that he'd found a tootsie roll! After that, something just snapped. Now I just politely state my considered opinion that all Fundies are full of Happy Horseshit.

As for the god problem, it has never been about proving a negative. The burden of proof lies with those making the absurd, but positive assertions. For me, it's a matter of overwhelming probability:

With all the believers in all the gods that have ever been, or ever will be (made up), they can't all be right, but they can all be wrong.

breakerslion said...

Oh yeah, one more thing. Where I grew up, a debate meant that one took a position and defended it. There was a like statement of a contrary position, and then rebuttals.

"Firstly, it amazes me that you would enter into a debate on the existence of God, but start it by assuming your own conclusion"

Is this guy serious?

Bnonn said...

Hi Angels, I have now posted my second statement. I look forward to your reply.


Bnonn said...

I meant to add: if I may suggest, to keep the debate a reasonable length, might I suggest we have one or two more statements, followed by a 1500 word conclusion?

Larro said...

@ breakerslion: I LOVE THE TOOTSIE ROLL ANALOGY!!! Awesome.

@ angelsdepart: Again I will say that it is pointless to debate the existence of god. Because, for one, we all know it cannot be empirically proven...this argument. Secondly, I wish more atheists would concern themselves more with the secularist cause (or the erosion thereof), rather than the theological. It merits much more worthwhile attention; as this in itself affects us the most as a global society.

angelsdepart said...

I understand larro, but these types of discourses are useful as a sort of eye opening, knowledge gaining experience of what we are up against as we try to move society forward.

Religion will be around as long as mankind is. When Christianity's steam runs out, a new thought ideology will pop up to take its place and assume control of the population.

Besides, the power went off at work and we all got sent home, so I had some spare time on my hands.

Anyways I am tired of always having to be the one to save the world.

Tag.... your it!

Larro said...

Who's eyes do you seek to open? Those whom purposefully shut them?

I know. It's hard. I've given up on that. The only route left to me is bitching and complaining on how religion intrudes into our lives politically and socially. I leave the theological arguments to the shysters. And when needed I will try to point out those flawed intentions via social/political implications and not the theological.

Those with faith can only learn life through life lessons. Hopefully they will come to understand that we are all on the earth as one. And that we are all valuable in the long run.

angelsdepart said...


Thank you for your post

You said

"it made me a little bleary-eyed because of your background"

What do you mean by that?

Larro said...

As far as Frank goes I'll be more than willing to be uncivil on your behalf. What an condescending, pretentious ass!

angelsdepart said...


Even when being civil, it is hard not to mention how big of an idiot he is.

They say if you don't have something nice to say........................................................................................................................................................

tina said...

Aw oh, the wrath of Frank will be upon you Larro!