A Call for Serious Religious Debaters

bsr005As many people might know, I’ve been hunting high and low for a rational theist to debate for quite some time now.  I’ve been actively looking on forums, blogs, Twitter (a waste of time, I know), IRC and other places for anyone who is intelligent, educated and can defend their beliefs credibly. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about a rational person who is also a theist, I want a theist who is rational in their theism.  I want rational debaters who can address their religion in a factual, evidence-based manner.

I’ve come up completely dry so far.

Part of my problem, I think, is that I’m too nice about it.  Yes, that’s right, I know it’s hard to believe because I don’t usually pull punches or take names, I demand the very best and don’t give quarter, but in this case, I really am.  See, when I go to debate sites, particularly religious debate sites, I restrict myself to only the public, non-specific-religion areas.  If there’s a forum for debating religion, I’m in.  If there’s a forum for discussion Christianity among the faithful, I respect their right to have a “safe zone” and don’t bother them.  I don’t go barging in and demand they debate me, that’s a dick move and I don’t like it when they do it to atheist discussion forums, I’m not going to do it to them.

That doesn’t mean I might not go in and watch for a while silently, I can lurk and see if any of them have any good arguments or seem to be handling their religious beliefs rationally.  Unfortunately, this is extremely rare and most of the people to whom rationality means anything tend to be the most liberal of theists, who understand that their beliefs are intensely personal and emotional and they have no actual reason to believe any of it outside of their own personal desire for it to be true.  I’m not looking for personal desires though, I’m looking for actual evidence and nobody seems to have that.  The most reasonable people simply admit they have nothing that would convince anyone else and refuse to debate the point.  There seems to be a very sharp divide between the crazy fundamentalists who scream that their own personal experiences with a god are inviolable and they cannot possibly be wrong and those who know their arguments are empty and don’t push it on others.  Where are the people in the middle who hold strong beliefs, yet think that their beliefs are demonstrable and actually understand what logical fallacies are and try not to use them?  Those are the people I want and those are the people that apparently don’t exist.

SayWhaSo I’ve looked at 8 religious forums, multiple channels on 4 IRC networks, at least 2 dozen religious blogs that claim they have a rational reason to believe and none of them have come even close to what I’m looking for.  I’ve even extended some offers to debate with a couple of them that I thought were most reasonable and while most have simply ignored me, the few that have bothered to respond have turned me down because, I think, they recognize that I’m asking for something they are not capable of providing.

The thing is, what I’m asking shouldn’t be that difficult for any credible belief.  What we see among most theists is equivalent to what we see among conspiracy theorist crackpots.  Mike and I examined that in some detail on The Bitchspot Report Podcast a couple of weeks ago and the more you look at both, the more you realize just how similar the two belief systems are.  This is really something that needs to be spread around, that there really is nothing functionally different between believing in God and believing in Bigfoot or UFO abductions or aliens running the government.  As a society, we generally roll our eyes when someone starts saying we didn’t go to the moon, why don’t we do the same thing when someone believes in miracles or angels or the like?

I’ve really run out of places to look.  Therefore, I’d like to put a call out to my readers and see if they have any ideas or if they think I ought to give up entirely.  Are there any rational, intelligent theists in the world that can actually defend their beliefs with critical thinking and evidence?  Or am I just wasting my time?

I’d really like to know.

28 thoughts on “A Call for Serious Religious Debaters

  1. What's a serious religious debater? Is it someone who really knows their religion and the arguments backing it up? Do you prefer evidentialists over presuppositionalists? Or vice versa? Or does it not matter? There's this presuppositionalist who I occasionally butt heads with. He's a biblical scholar so he knows his religion, but debating him is all about epistemology since he doesn't care much for the "evidence." But he is fierce debater. You could check out debate.org. I've had a few religious debates on that site. There are some skilled debaters there, but also a lot of amateurs.
    My recent post Nobody's Right, If Everybody's Wrong

  2. I think its a waste of time, as even the most rational theist will revert to quoting their holy book at some point. This is where everything that was rational up to that point devolves into stupid arguments that mean nothing. Even in some debates where it started with the Bible and I have gotten away from the bible and both sides were getting to a rational conclusion, then the bible gets quoted again and I eventually have to walk away.
    My recent post The god gaps just became a whole lot smaller

  3. Huh. So you won't accept burden of proof? Mmm. So declaring there is no deity is not a position which requires proof? Really? You're serious? And you fill a blog, day after day, from a position that has no burden of proof. Well, I gotta say, that's a new height.

    And you sprinkle words and phrases like "same old tired", "same old absurd philosophical masturbation", "commonplace", "entirely refuted", "never fly here", "atheists have to disprove theist claims". Are these things true? Where is your proof, beyond "Because I said so"?

    Cephus, most of what you just wrote can be equally applied to the content you are putting in your blog and your podcast. "Exposing Stupidity wherever it lies"? Why is it stupid? Because *you* said so?

    Hey, it's your blog, dude. Just don't expect anyone but your fellow dreamers to take you seriously.

  4. Serious religious debaters don't hang out on the Internet. They are too busy writing academic papers and engaging with serious issues in philosophy departments. They generally think Internet forums are cesspools, and I'm inclined to agree. The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is in full effect. Why punish oneself like that?

    In lieu of that, although I'm not religious, I'll pick up the reigns best I can. Although I can only get as far as God and soul. I don't know nuthin about the Bible, Quran, Jesus, Christology, Trinity, or anything specific like that.


    The pre-Socratics were trying to figure out how to resolve change and permanence. Some things seem to stay the same (people stay people, rocks stay rocks) and other things seem to change (rivers flow, birds fly). Is one of these more basic than the other?

    Representing the two extremes: Parmenides said: change never occurs; it's all an illusion. Heraclitus said: everything always changes; nothing is permanent.

    Aristotle resolved the problem with the concept of actuality and potentiality. "Actuality" means the way something is right now (the coffee cup on your desk). "Potentiality" means the capacity something has for future change (the coffee cup spilled on the floor). Parmenides only had the concept of actuality; he was missing potentiality in his argument.

    So we have the concepts of actuality and potentiality. In modern English: stuff is one way now, but can change to a different way in the future.


  5. Honestly, I think it best to forget the word "god" for now.

    The dependency chains of which I'm speaking of must bottom out in something not dependent upon any further conditions, and so in something unchangeable or, in Aristotle's terminology, pure actuality. Something devoid of potentials. This is because each of these changeable things is "receiving" its actuality, its realness, existence, etc, from another state of affairs, which is receiving its actuality from yet another state of affairs, and so on, which must bottom out in a source or transmitter: something that can give actuality (existence) without needing to get it from anything further. Same reason that if your lamp is receiving electricity, that electricity must come from something that can give electricity without needing to get it from anywhere: the power plant. The outlet and power lines don't count since they are themselves receivers. just passing the electricity along.

    Here is a slightly different way of seeing the same point. The most fundamental principle in the universe cannot consist of multiple principles, because if it were, then it just wouldn't be the most fundamental principle in the first place. This means it cannot consist of the principles of actuality and potentiality, since the principle of actuality by itself is more fundamental, and the principle of potentiality is by itself more fundamental, than something consisting of both actuality and potentiality.

    In English: all changeable things are dependent upon further conditions, which bottoms out in something not changeable and so not dependent on further conditions.

    In Aristotle's terminology: we bottom out in something that is pure actuality, devoid of any potentials.

  6. But in this case, we aren't just making something up or inventing something whole cloth. We know that a receiver entails a giver, because if there is no giver, then there is nothing to receive. And if the chain is infinitely long, then that is in effect removing the giver, and hence by extension whatever is being received.

    A chain of dependent members depends for its activity on the source. A chain of gears, each turned by the next one in the chain, depends upon a motorized gear, otherwise none would be moving in the first place. Otherwise, this is like saying that a train of boxcars can move all by itself if there were just enough boxcars. Since each boxcar depends for its movement on the engine, then removing the engine removes the source of motion and hence the boxcars won't be moving, because they themselves are all power less.

    Or a series of moons, each reflecting light from its neighbor. An infinite string of non-luminous bodies cannot be a source of light. If they are reflecting light, then there must be a source of light somewhere.

  7. I never said a word about the Big Bang. In fact, Aristotle and Aquinas both assumed for the sake of argument that the universe is infinitely old. The argument in question concerns a sustaining cause, not the thing that triggered the Big Bang. And I've never said anything about anything "outside" the universe. The frozen lake is sustained in existence by cold air, which is sustained in existence by the jet stream, which is sustained in existence by the Sun, which is sustained in existence by gravity, and so on. We are moving DOWN to the fundamental level, not BACKWARDS to the Big Bang.

    In addition, the philosophy we are talking about here is the philosophy of changeable things. Science is concerned with finding out what changeable things happen to exist, but the philosophy of changeable things is concerned with analyzing the concept of change regardless of what specific changeable things exist. As you say, perhaps some universe have no weak force, or different physical laws. Nonetheless, those things are still changeable, and the philosophy of changeable stuff still applies.

    So a receiver entails a giver. Lake sustained by cold air sustained by jet stream sustained by sun sustained by gravity sustained by mass sustained by Higgs….and we hit the bottom of the hierarchy at something that does not need to be sustained by anything further.

  8. But there is a difference between what brought a frozen lake into existence (drainage from a river, the movement of air) and what is sustaining it in existence once it exists. The latter is what we are asking.

    OK, consider an analogy. You see a rock moving across your kitchen table. You know that rocks can't move themselves, so it must be being pushed or pulled by something else. You step back and see a stick pushing the rock. Now do you know what is pushing the rock? Not really, because sticks are not capable of moving themselves either, so a third thing must be pushing the stick. And so on until you find something, like an animal or something, that can push without itself needing to be pushed by anything further.

    It would be a strange objection if I then said, "No, the stick came from a tree, which grew in a forest, which evolved slowly over time, and so on." You would be puzzled that I answered your question "What is moving the rock across my kitchen table?" with "A primeval forest." A forest is not what is moving the rock across my kitchen table. Rather, some kind of pusher with its own locomotion is moving the rock across my table.

    You see, Aquinas famously rejected the Kalam cosmological argument (that the universe had a beginning and something must have triggered it) because he thought it was weak.

  9. RIght. It's not just the cold air, but the state of the dirt (a depression), the drainage, etc. All this must be in place to sustain the lake in existence. But each of these further states of affairs themselves depend upon further states of affairs.

    > It all still flows back to the Big Bang

    But we're not asking "where did the lake come from", we are asking "what keeps the lake in existence right now".

    Again, your objection is like saying "a primeval forest is moving the rock across your kitchen table, because the stick that is moving the rock came from the forest and so on". A primeval forest may have caused the stick to exist, but it is not what currently sustains the motion of the rock. What is doing that is an unpushed pusher: something that can push without needing to be pushed by anything else.

    I am not looking for the beginning of everything. Again, Aquinas and Aristotle both argued that the universe is infinitely old, for the sake of argument. To quote Aquinas himself: "By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the universe did not always exist."

    What I'm looking for is what sustains the frozen lake in existence as we speak. For the sake of argument, assume it's gravity, because gravity is sustaining the Sun's nuclear reactions in existence which sustains the jet stream in existence which sustains the cold air which sustains the frozen lake. So gravity would be what I'm looking for. Perhaps there was no Big Bang. Perhaps the universe is infinitely old. Nonetheless, here and now gravity is sustaining the nuclear reactions which is sustaining etc —> frozen lake.

  10. >it isn't an ancient forest that moved the rock

    Yes, that's right. It isn't moving the rock because the primeval forest and everything that came before that is no longer even around.

    Again, let's assume for the sake of argument that our unsustained sustainer is gravity. Gravity sustains in existence the nuclear reactions etc and so on to the frozen lake. Gravity does not depend for its CURRENT existence on the Big Bang, because the Big Bang is no longer even around and perhaps the universe is really infinitely old. We are asking what currently sustains the frozen lake, which (in my for-the-sake-of-argument) is gravity, so gravity is the bottom-most level responsible for the current existence of the frozen lake.

    To take the parallel argument, the current existence of the frozen lake is dependent upon the current state of the water molecules and air molecules, which are in turn dependent upon the weak force and so forth, bottoming out in, let's say just for the hell of it, whatever principle wraps together gravity+weak+strong+electro. And so that theory is at the bottomost level, sustaining the frozen lake in existence. The Big Bang is no longer around or perhaps never even existed, and so it is not currently sustaining the frozen lake in existence.

  11. >we're tracing back where things came from

    In this case, we're not. The argument is concerned with what is currently sustaining something in existence. In the same way that the question in the analogy was "What is moving the rock across my table?", we are not interested in where the stick and rock came from, and so the answer is not "A primeval forest" or "a volcano". The answer is "something that can push without needing to be pushed by anything further."

    >it does rely on the existence of the physical laws of the universe which were generated in the Big Bang.

    Right, and the motion of the rock across your table relies on the stick which was created by a primeval forest, but that is not what we're asking. We are asking "what is pushing the rock?", and we are asking "what sustains the lake in existence?"

  12. To briefly recap: a changeable state of affairs is dependent upon another state of affairs; and if that second state of affairs is also changeable then it too depends on yet another state of affairs and so on, all of which must be actualized by something non-changeable and hence purely actual.

    The question is not "Where did this clock come from?", which would be answered with "a factory or clockmaker" but rather "What keeps this clock's hands turning right now, regardless of where the clock came from?"

    Interestingly, I have found many atheists, even one particularly hostile one, who agree with this chain of reasoning; that there is and must be some "ground of existence".

    OK, so there is some state of affairs that is purely actual, devoid of any potentials. Something unchangeable, even in principle.

    Something purely actual, devoid of potentials, has the following attributes: http://rocketphilosophy.blogspot.com/2013/05/attr

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