The 10 atheists “most wanted to debate” list, and the defeasibility test

From some organization called Dare2Debate.net, which I don’t know but seems loosely affiliated with the late Duane Gish, we get a list of the ten atheists most wanted for debate.

Their “challenge”:

Objective: To schedule and promote a one-day Creation Conference to be held in conjunction with each proposed debate.  Each conference will be held on a Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the debate, if it happens (if the opponent accepts the challenge), will take place that night in the same facility.  The conferences will be held in the following cities….

Norman, Oklahoma @ the University of Oklahoma

They give a phone number.

To accept the challenge, call 1-877-2DEBATE.

When you call it (I called via Skype just to check), you get a message that “You have dialed a number that cannot be reached.”  I suppose that’s a metaphor for the mentality of these creationists.

Picture 2

What good company I’m in! But I’m sad that they could find nothing better to pwn me with than this: “Jerry Coyne, professor of biology at the University of Chicago, runs a web site [at least they got that right] called ‘Why Evolution is true’ and has written a book entitled the same.” OMG: I’m humiliated! At least they could have dumped on me the way they did on Pinker: “With a smug look and condescending voice, Harvard professor Steven Pinker says, ‘The idea we were put here for some purpose is ignorance. . “.  Of course, anybody who knows or sees Pinker realizes that he doesn’t produce smug looks, and his voice is not condescending but passionate. 

What am I afraid of? Nothing, you lamebrains, except that debates aren’t the way to settle the question of evolution, which we already know is true. They are exercises in rhetoric and showmanship, with the creationist debaters engaging in the “Gish Gallop,” as Genie Scott called it.  I much prefer to engage the questions of creation vs evolution in either public lectures (where I do take questions) or, preferably, in print, as in the article I wrote on Intelligent Design for the New Republic, “The faith that dare not speak its name.” That brought me literally hundreds of  positive emails from readers and effected several conversions to evolution.

With articles, books, or longish lectures, the reader/viewer can contemplate the issues at leisure, which is really the only way to come to weigh the evidence dispassionately.

Oh, and debates give creationists an undeserved credibility. It’s like debating a homeopath or a flat-earther.

I received the most wanted list from professor Peter Boghossian, also one of the “wanted,” who was bursting with pride (“We made it!” he crowed).  When I asked Peter if he’d ever consider such a debate, he responded, “I don’t debate anyone until they’ve passed the defeasibility test.”

The test was devised by Matt McCormick, who defines it thusly:

So in the spirit of John Loftus’ Outside Test for Faith, I propose a test.  Before I or any other doubter, atheist, skeptic, or non-believer engages in a discussion about the reasons for and against God, the believer must look deep into his heart and mind and ask this question:  Are there any considerations, arguments, evidence, or reasons, even hypothetically that could possibly lead me to change my mind about God?  Is it even a remotely possible outcome that in carefully and thoughtfully reflecting on the broadest and most even body of evidence that I can grasp, that I would come to think that my current view about God is mistaken?  That is to say, is my belief defeasible?
If the answer is no, then we’re done.  There is nothing informative, constructive, or interesting to be found in your contribution to dialogue.  Anything you have to say amounts to sophistry.  We can’t take your input any more seriously than the lawyer who is a master of casuistry and who can provide rhetorically masterful defenses of every side of an issue.  She’s not interested in the truth, only is scoring debate points or the construction of elaborate rhetorical castles (that float on air).
In all fairness, we must demand the same from skeptics, doubters, and atheists.  They are just as guilty of conflict if they rail against religious beliefs for lacking rational justification, but in turn there are no possible considerations that could ever lead them to relinquish their doubts.

Peter considers this idea to be one of the “most important to come down the pike in a long time.” And I do think that Loftus’s related argument, in which he says that believers must apply the same standards to their own faith that they use when rejecting other faiths, is a great contribution to the science/religion debates.  And do note the last paragraph of McCormick’s quote, which argues that an evolutionist can debate only if you’re open to evidence and argument against evolution—and presumably for religion.  Well,  as I’ve always said, I am open to evidence for God and the truth claims of particular religions, and I’ve specified what would provisionally convince me of their existence. And all evolutionists are open to good arguments against the fact of evolution.  We just haven’t seen any. (Some, like P. Z. Myers, have specified that there is no evidence of any sort that could convince them of a god’s existence, and we differ on this issue.)

But you couldn’t convince me of these things in a debate: it requires lots of documentation and observation that isn’t on tap in a short exchange of views.

Peter added this in his email, ” [If] someone wants to debate you, just have them take the defeasibility test. 100% of potential debate opponents will go away.”

There I don’t agree, and for two reasons.  First, some believers claim that they are open to changing their minds, and have given on this website the evidence that would convince them.  (Whether one believes them or not is another issue.) In fact, many believers, including former pastors like Mike Aus, Jerry DeWitt, John Loftus, and Dan Barker, have given up religion when they rationally considered the arguments against it.

So I don’t think that 100% of opponents will go away.

Second, those opponents, since they’re already practiced in lying for Jesus, have a strong incentive to lie about accepting the defeasibility test so they can get you on the platform with them.

The fact is that debates are not the place to settle issues of science. I would no more debate a creationist than I would debate a fellow scientist in public about whether speciation is largely sympatric (occurring in one area) or more often allopatric (occurring in populations separated by geographic barriers). Such debates occur, and the issues weighed and often settled, in public lectures and scientific papers.

If you want to debate me about evolution, just read my book and publish a written response.  Good luck.

211 Comments

  1. Marcus
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    William Lane Craig has at least debated Krauss on several occasions. In fact, he’s in Australia on a speaking tour and will debate Krauss on several different topics. He’s also gone toe-to-toe against Hitchens and Sam Harris. They are civil and informative. I wouldn’t bother with this organization.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t bother with this organization.

      Which organization?

      • Marcus
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        The “dare2debate” organization/group. I don’t know anyone specifically tied to this group

        • ledflashing
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          The site is registered to a ‘Mike Smith’. Presumably the same Mike Smith which creationsummit.com touts as the president of their corporation.

          • jh
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

            WLC never debates. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a stack of index cards memorized for every talking point including every retort to every question he has ever received in the past which can be robotically billowed out for the right occasion.

    • Joel
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Craig isn’t a creationist though, is he? His debates are over philosophical arguments, not about evolution. I know he believes in an old earth/universe. I don’t know what his views on evolution are exactly, but I’m guessing he’s a theistic evolutionist. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. gbjames
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Congratulations!

  3. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Creationist are conflating academic debates with political debates. Academic debates are held through writings such as articles and books, in which hypotheses are defended by arguments and evidence. Political debates are held face to face, with the primary objective to pursuade the audience.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      In many cases this conflation is deliberate. (I guess I refuse to believe that such incredible doublethink is possible – WLC and such are dishonest, since they use the same refuted points over and over. Even if they weren’t somehow convinced at least they should acknowledge what they’ve been told. But no …)

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        It would not surprise me if it was deliberate. Creationists are not talking to scientists and the scientific minded, but to the ordinary public, which is unfamiliar with academia. When the ordinary man hears “debate” he most likely will think of political debates, and this is the image creationists want to create. And when a scientist declines to such debate, they can point to their ignorant public, “see you those […] cannot defend their positions.”

        • Posted August 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

          I understand the reasons evolutionists spurn debates with creationists, but I disagree with them. Creationists are justified in crowing that evolutionists aren’t that sure of their product. Blunt truth is, like it or not, almost half the public buys into creationism & when evolutionists refuse debate it looks cowardly. I’m reminded of a quote of unknown authorship: liberals would rather talk about the zen of Starwars at Starbucks than engage in debate with conservatives; conservatives will fight anybody to the death for their bloody twaddle.
          That makes me very uncomfortable.

          • Posted August 19, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

            That’s precisely how creationists wants to frame the issue: Evolutionists are uncertain of their “product” and they are cowards. That’s why creationists are unstoppable with inviting their opponents for “debates”, so they can “show” evolutionists are afraid or are uncertain of their theories. Creationists can easily get away with this because of the ignorance of the broad public.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

            There is no debate, first of all. The scientific consensus has settled the question. Should scientists be debating atrologers? Should scientists debate alchemists? Should scientists engage in debate with the flat-earth society or the geo-centric solar system society?

            Even if there were an important reason to “debate”, the arena or format is the matters. Just watch the latest Ray Comfort film for an example. It’s easy for the creationist to say “I can’t see evolution happening”, “you can’t reproduce macro-evolution in experiments, so its not repeatable”. These are to some degree true statements, or true seeming statements, but they don’t count as arguments against evolution.

            The answers to these can’t possibly fit into a debate. They need to be argued in a book, in lengthy written form, or a lecture format because many details hang together in complex ways to make the case.

            It comes down to asking what is most important, stagecraft and showmanship, or detailed hard substance. Science wins easily in the latter, but creationists can easily ask questions that don’t have sound-bite answers in a live debate, giving the impression to the uneducated that they are scoring points when they aren’t.

            This isn’t a question to be settled by the opinions of a debate audience.

            • Posted August 19, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

              Granted, but perhaps one of the goals of participation, and maybe a more important goal than winning the debate, is to take this very idea, that the issue is not one to be settled, or which needs to be settled, by debate, but is one that is already settled amongst the relevant scientists, and how (that is, how science actually works), to a wider audience that doesn’t yet understand it.

              /@

    • Marella
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      That’s because what they do is political. They want power over others, not knowledge. They want to be able to dictate school curricula and to mandate what people can and cannot know, and what they must believe. Their agenda is 100% politics.

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        “Their agenda is 100% politics.”

        I couldn’t phrase it better.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        And the reason that their agenda is 100% politics is because they have already lost every scientific battle, and every legal battle.

        “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither the facts nor the law is on your side, pound the table.”

  4. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    The fact is that debates are not the place to settle issues of science.

    I understand the reasons for not participating in live, spoken debates; however, instead of declining, might a better response be to accept the challenge on condition that it is a written debate, open on the internet, with written replies every few days?

    I suspect that any of the above 10 would wipe the floor with any creationist in a written debate, and that this would be a good public service.

    Of course there is no chance of the creationists accepting, since they know they have only showmanship.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Would you have a written debate with someone from the Flat Earth Society?

      I think all it would do is give people the impression that there is some legitimacy to their position and that there is still a debate or a controversy in the scientific community about whether evolution is true.

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        I probably wouldn’t bother with the Flat Earth Society, because they are not influential enough to be worth bothering with.

        But creationism is prevalent in some countries, and yes I would think it worth engaging in debate with them — in written form where their theatrical tricks won’t work.

        • ullrich fischer
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          Written form debates between Creationists or their self-re-definition as IDiots, and atheists take place all the time. As Sam Harris eloquently points out: “Religion is losing the argument….”

          Formal debates posted to YouTube can and have been helpful as they may prompt honest but deluded faith-heads to search their holy books for rebuttals to atheists’ debating points, only to find that there is nothing there. The Clergy Project is expressly set up to help such individuals transition to the real world.

  5. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    §

  6. eric
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Peter added this in his email, ” [If] someone wants to debate you, just have them take the defeasibility test. 100% of potential debate opponents will go away.”

    There I don’t agree, and for two reasons. First, some believers claim that they are open to changing their minds, and have given on this website the evidence that would convince them. (Whether one believes them or not is another issue.)

    The defeasability test seems to me a test no debate can pass. That is to say, I can think of evidence that would change my mind (multiple confirmed precambrian rabbits; moon monolith, etc), and I’m willing to accept that there may be evidence that would change a creationist’s mind – but neither type of evidence is going to be newly revealed during a debate. So what the defeasibility test really does is say “this is not a topic for public debate; its a topic to be decided in the scientific literature.”

    I’m ambivalent about that. I think there’s probably some audience educational value to some debates that goes beyond trying to convince the opponent. But I’m on the fence, and perfectly happy to let those who think they can educate an audience through debate to try and do so while also supporting the scientists who decide that they ought not participate in such events. For me, the ‘to debate or not’ question probably does not have a one size fits all answer.

    • eric
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      Just to be clear, I DO agree the validity of evolution and invalidiity of creationism is, in fact, decided in the literature. Debate contributes nothing to that. I’m ambivalent about the value of debate for other purposes.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      The enormous value of McCormick’s Defeasibility Test is that it takes “faith” out of the picture. In doing so, it puts everyone on common ground.

      The importance of this can’t be emphasized enough. Not just for the purposes of debate — but for the ability to reason in general.

      Religious faith is belief based on evidence which is considered sufficient only to someone with an appropriately open mind — a will to believe. This emotional receptivity entails that the believer is now actually morally committed to rationalizing, making excuses, making things up, engaging in sophistry, and falling for logical fallacies and cognitive errors. If they change their mind then they’ve “lost their faith” and failed on every level. Faith is a test of your courage, resolve, reliability, intelligence … and innate capacity to love and show gratitude.

      E gads. No. You have to remove that mindset before anything can get through. Otherwise, as Matt says, they’re just going to be going through the motions and never really engaging with the topic. They’ll be too focused on proving their worth to themselves.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      “…no debate can pass.”???

      How about a debate on the some economic issues of our time? Such as, whether the stimulus to the US economy was sufficient, insufficient, not a factor, in the slow recovery from the 2008 Crisis?

      That is but one example, but it’s one where I could say, yes, show me the numbers, one side or the other, and I’ll switch to championing the best-argued opinion.

      This type of debate works, because there is something statistical to argue. And, can be debated with rather simple statistics, graphs, etc. Creationists, IMO, bring zero meaningful statistics, just large numbers that are without context, and may in fact, be not-so-large numbers, just the appearance of numbers. Vague terms like “complexity” are given weight by the biased judges, where the term holds no value.

      If ‘stuck’ in a debate with a creationist, I would first ask this question, to set a standard of the other guy’s ability to understand large numbers:

      “If each of the oxygen molecules contained within a cubic centimeter of space, if each of those tiny molecules was enlarged to the size of a grain of sand, how large would that pile of sand be?”

      The correct answer: the pile would be so large, as to cover the entire city of Chicago to a depth of seven feet.

      Without the math/physical sciences bona fides, the other debater is simply making stuff up. No debate, actually.

      Numbers, statistics, graphs. These are useful in confirming evolutionary ideas, and the Theory of Evolution (note, the “most wanted” declared “Theory” when they meant “hypothesis”, just to confuse…). Religionists rely on fuzzy definitions they infer to be a “truth” when in fact they are as imbued with meaning as a dog catching its own tail.

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Oxygen at STP (standard temperature and pressure).

  7. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    ,,

  8. Douglas Anderson
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    “If these men(below)….”

    Shows how little creationists know about biology and anatomy, one of the 10 is Dr Eugenie Scott who I believe to be female. Or maybe the religious right are just sexist and refuse to acknowledge her sex.

    Inane comment I know, but so is the creationist arguments.

  9. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I have doubts about this defensibility test business. I’m thinking about this disagreement between Prof. Coyne and Prof. Myers (or, if I may, Jerry and PZ). I’m inclined to agree with Jerry that there are circumstances which would lead me, provisionally at least, to believe in God. But then I think about what I would sound like to another skeptic, who would immediately hit me questions like “Given the many arguments we all know which establish to a greater or lesser extent the improbability of God, isn’t it more likely that you’re making some kind of mistake?” Perhaps I, caught up in the rush of whatever transcendent experience has convinced me to believe in God, would not be persuaded by the skeptic’s point, but doesn’t the skeptic have a good point?

    Let me put it this way. I can imagine a situation that could lead me to believe in God, but I cannot imagine a situation where it would be reasonable for me to believe in God. Does this position pass the defeasibility test? I don’t think so. But it’s not a question of my personal willingness to be persuaded by evidence, which is the point of the defeasibility test. It’s a question of just how staggeringly unlikely it is that there’s such a thing as God.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      It is not that hard to think of evidence which would be strong enough to make it rational to believe in a personal creator-god. If the fine-structure constant in physics had a complex, meaningful hidden message in English, Chinese, and Russian, encoded unambiguously in a very early segment of its decimal expansion, and if this message told of a new, testable law of physics, and if the law were true, I’d be convinced that there is some entity with a mind that created our observable universe and can see the future. I’d also be convinced if a coded message unambiguously predicted some astronomical event (maybe a big meteor strike) and the prediction came true. I might also be convinced if intercessionary prayer almost always worked when god X was invoked, but almost never when god Y was invoked.

      Since the decimal expansions of fundamental constants are infinite, every possible message will appear somewhere in it, hence the need for some strict rules about the message appearing very early in the expansion. It would still be possible that the message was due to chance, but the probability would be vanishingly small.

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Decimal expansions only encode everything if they are so-called “normal” values, IIRC.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Or if a reasonably defined and contrasted text in every Earth language appeared instead of random spots in the CMB horizon, painting all over the sky “Earthlings, it is [insert your god/gods of choice] speaking”, I would have a hard time believe in a natural universe. Grandiose gestures are what these figures go for, I hear.

      But really, if energy conservation in a closed system would be out of whack I would have to scratch the hypothesis of a natural universe. Meaning there must be some magic action, no need to identify which agent.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        …and call into question how refrigerators work. 😉

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      ventzone wrote:

      I can imagine a situation that could lead me to believe in God, but I cannot imagine a situation where it would be reasonable for me to believe in God.

      Ah, but I think you’re going about this the wrong way, and thinking too small. Can you imagine a long series of situations which would or could convince the vast majority of reasoning scientists to believe in God — not as a matter of faith, but as a strong and viable predictive hypothesis?

      If so, then you can now address little old you and your capacity for human error.

      Baby steps. Dazzle shots and astonishing miracles can always have some other explanation. But it seems to me that a case cautiously built on increasing data is much more powerful than any individual’s overwhelming certainty of experienced ‘transcendence.’

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Which is why some of us just want to call a spade a spade and, while retaining an open mind in theory, say “look, at this point, the long-consistent-series ship of possible evidence has sailed.”

        That doesn’t mean we’re not amenable to testing whatever claims are made.

        • Sastra
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Yes; at this point overthrowing naturalism would be like over throwing evolution — which are both like overthrowing the Copernican Theory. Sure, we can make up all sorts of hypothetical historical examples (anchoring the theory empirically), but if we want to think of evidence which would right now, right here, today convince us that the sun goes around the earth and we’ve all been completely wrong about it being the other way around … then we’re left with bizarre hypotheticals involving advanced alien species playing tricks, Matrix-style virtual realities, or a worldly conspiracy of proportions so vast that we might as well posit aliens in the Matrix.

    • eric
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Of course there is always a chance of mistake. That is why most skeptics would require multiple independent and reproducible/confirmable lines of evidence. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility.

  10. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Myers is a busted flush now. They might want to take him off the list.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      I have no idea what that means, but I completely agree. 🙂

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

        It means either a broken toilet or a bad poker hand.

        • Robert Bray
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          . . . and the name of Travis McGee’s houseboat.

        • Robert Bray
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          . . . or the name of Travis McGee’s houseboat.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I have to say that Peter Boghossian & Steven Pinker did receive the best descriptions – I love the “very sarcastic” – you can really feel the writer’s haughtiness! 🙂 The reason they see Pinker as smug and condescending is because he says intelligent things and uses polysyllabic words correctly. 🙂

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      But that he of all of the Named Names up there gets singled out for the most vehement adjectives. I mean, what did Pinker ever do to them?

      I almost expected to see a further sentence that goes: “And he made gloves out of my pet bunny.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        Ha! The bunny comment is a good one. Also, “I once saw him kick a puppy” 😀

      • Marella
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        Interesting that they chose Steven Pinker for special invective instead of Richard Dawkins. Richard is usually the most hated atheist. Pinker must have really got up their nose recently.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I’m confident
      You’re smug
      He’s blowing smoke out his ass

  12. Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Congratulations!

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    It’s a wonder that Ian Plimer didn’t make their Top Ten list.

    Plimer is an outspoken critic of creationism and is famous for a 1988 debate with creationist Duane Gish in which he asked his opponent to hold live electrical cables to prove that electromagnetism was ‘only a theory’. Gish accused him of being theatrical, abusive and slanderous.

    Hat tip, Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists (1992)

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      Video of the big moment

      • Richard Olson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Gish’s actions in the video are of course no surprise. The audience reaction was depressing, though. I hope it was a group from a fundavangelical Christian church sprinkled with a few brave skeptics who somehow made it past the gatekeepers, and not student assembly at a school.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        I thought Gish made the obvious intelligent response, saying that electricity is immediately observable.

        Plimer missed an opportunity. He should have asked Gish if he could observe the electrical potential, the voltage, prior to demonstrating the power of electric current.

        Gish would have to say no.

        Then Plimer could indicate that it is often so in science that we can’t see things directly, but we know they are there when we see their effects. This is how we “see” evolution. We can not directly observe, but we see the effects in fossils, in living species, and in DNA.

        It is as unreasonable to want to “see evolution happening” as it is to want to see voltage or electric fields or electric potential. Gish can’t see these things, but accepts electricity is real because of its effects.

    • ichneumonid
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately Ian Plimer is now a climate change denier, employing many of the creationist tactics himself.

      • Marella
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        Ian Plimer is a geologist. Geologists have spent their entire lives looking at changes in the climate-as described in the rocks-and find it hard to understand current concerns. The climate has never been stable and is never likely to be. To a geologist the current changes are just a bit more of what’s always been the case. I suspect that the thought of human extinction doesn’t bother them so much either. Every species becomes extinct eventually.

        He wrote an excellent book on creationist tactics in Australia,”Telling Lies for God: Reason vs Creationism” (1994), showing that they are aware that what they say is not true but say it anyway, presumably for the money.

        Plimer is not perfect, but Alfred Wallace ended his life a spiritualist and refused to accept natural selection for the human brain.In fact he was at best a “directed evolutionist”. Darwin was afraid that his attitudes would sink the whole idea of natural selection. Plimer was putting himself out there long before it was fashionable, or he had the internet to support him. Give him credit for that at least.

  14. AndrewD
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    What was the reply a famous scientist (someone remind me who please)gave in a similar position, ah yes, ” This would look good on your CV, less so on mine”

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      I believe that originated with Lord Robert May.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        Dawkins would agree with you as he attributes the remark to an “Aussie colleague” who was invited to debate a creationist

        He explains this in a cod Aussie accent in the last minute of this ABC Sydney radio interview

  15. Brujo Feo
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Pet peeve: ain’t no such word as “thusly.” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/thusly. It’s right up there with “crispy.”

    But I digress. Accepting a debate with these clowns would be like…look, I have Taekwon-Do students, serious young women and men in their 20s and 30s, 3rd & 4th & 5th-degree black belts who have proven themselves in international competition. Several of them world champions. I’m imagining if one of them told me that they were considering a proposal to get in the ring with a small, retarded child, suffering from severe cerebral palsy.

    Ain’t NO conceivable upside. Not even if they were “doing it for Jebus.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      There is too a word called “thusly” – we’ve used it so there it is – a word. 🙂

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        “Thusly is a superfluous word. Because thus is an adverb in its own right, the adverbial -ly adds nothing. This doesn’t mean that thusly is wrong, however, and there are contexts in which many English-speakers find it simply sounds better than thus, especially where it introduces quotes or lists.”

        http://grammarist.com/usage/thusly/

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        NOAD defines it without any usage note.

        /@

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      Really? Must we argue about this? Have you no sense of decency, at long last?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        This is literally the second saddest argument about language I have encountered this week.

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Well, we argued/discussed whether a teapot on a billboard looked like Hitler.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      But you’re okay with “pwn” though? :p

      But language is always acquiring and evolving new words and new slang. English is the front-runner by a mile in ever-expanding vocabularies.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Yes, I’m pretty free and loose with the English language. This is because English is NOT a dead language and new usage lends itself well to colourfully getting a point across. I like Jerry’s use of pwn and lamebrains in particular in this piece.

        • Brujo Feo
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Spoken English, I’m beyond “free and loose”–I was a construction worker for many years! But NO language still used is stagnant. (I assume that’s what you mean by “dead”–since if it’s no longer spoken by anyone, it’s probably beyond the scope of this discussion.)

          Back in prep school in the early ’70s, my Russian professor belonged to a group that not only spoke classical (as opposed to “church”) Latin as a living language; he was in charge of the panel entrusted with translating modern (usually scientific/technological) language into Latin. I remember some debate about how best to render “rocket fuel.”

          • Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            Well, they should have been arguing about “<a href="http://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocheta"rocket propellant” … 

            /@

            • Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

              * I think the > key must be flaky. Or me.

              • Notagod
                Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                I can’t even do English correctly and I don’t know for sure what has been changed by the rendering engine but, could it be chocking on the placement of ” marks?

                Here’s a template just for reference:

                <a href=”put url here”>your home brewed description</a>

                I think if there were any ” marks inside the URL it might render incorrectly.

              • Posted August 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                Uh, yeah…

                I just forgot the “>” after “Rocheta”.

                /@

              • Posted August 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                * “Rocheta”!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            Speaking Latin let alone translating modern documents into seems like it was more of an interesting esoteric activity than anything else. Nowadays, when you learn Latin, your fluency is based on reading it; no one expects you to converse in it. That went out in the 1700s when it lost it stopped being used as an international language.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Of course you’re correct. Languages do evolve. Neologisms can and do pay their own freight. I’m just not in favor of accepting every new usage as equal. Think of it as the “language police” stance vs. the “language social worker” position. In the proscription vs. prescription debate, Steven Pinker is among the best at arguing the other side.

        But my comment was meant lightly. I certainly didn’t mean to hijack the thread, which is on a far more important and interesting subject.

        • Marella
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

          IMNSHO, it is not about policing, it’s about the impression you wish to create. Do you wish to appear well educated and well read, or informal and lighthearted? Or alternately, in the case of so many, ignorant and backwoodsian? Sup to you.

    • Bruce Scott
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      “–Pet peeve: ain’t no such word as “thusly.” It’s right up there with “crispy.”–”

      It’s true, “thusly” is right up there with “crispy”. They are both Scrabble legal words (but not likely to be that useful as 6 letter words with a wasted S).

      They ARE words, just words that irritate Brujo Feo because they don’t really do any work that a simpler word doesn’t already do.

      I use “crispy”. Not I probably can’t anymore. Thanks Brujo. That’s why we can’t have nice things.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        I’m just doing Lord Satan’s work…

        • AdamK
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          I’m on Brujo’s side. But note that I’m a grouchy old pedant.

          I hate “crispy”!

          • Notagod
            Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

            Somehow, describing a christ cracker as crisp doesn’t do it for me in the same way as crispy does.

  16. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    This is yet another slime ball organization, probably dreamed up by one or two nut bags, saying Nyah, Nyah!

    I wont say congratulations because the ‘honor’ would only be theirs; for you it would be “…but it wont look good on my CV”.

    They have no arguments for their indefensible gawd spewings akin to flat earthers, geocentrists, astrologists or homeopaths.

    This is just an attempt for publicity. Put these people right next to Anthony Weiner.

  17. Merilee
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Must be g-d’s phone number and she’s not home…

  18. krzysztof1
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I don’t usually brag, but I came up with something very similar to the “defeasibility test” on my own, as a consequence of facebook exchanges with theists. (Unfortunately, I’m not a public atheist [yet], so I don’t make lists like this!)

    I think it’s a fantastic challenge, whoever dreamed it up. I don’t recall ever having gotten an answer to it. They always change the subject.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      I’ve gotten a few specific answers from theists trying to be honest. Usually they throw the evolution question back onto the God question and answer that one. “If they discover the body of Jesus I’ll change my mind.”

      Shows where they’re coming from.

      When they change the subject it’s often because they’re afraid to ‘test their faith.’ But that should be the whole point of being honest.

      • krzysztof1
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        If they can’t test their faith, is that an indicator they think it wouldn’t stand up to the test?

        I hadn’t heard the “body of Jesus” presented before. How convenient!

        • Sastra
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Apparently refusing to test your faith is itself a test of faith. If considering the possibility of being wrong = considering that God might be wrong and thus you aren’t because He can’t be — then you pass!

          I always suspect that the people who offer some trivial Bible error as ‘convincing evidence’ that there is no God are fooling themselves. There are sooo many Christians who remain devout even when they think virtually every purported fact in the Bible is a “symbol’ or ‘metaphor — not to mention the thousands and thousands of people who remain God-soaked under a vague, handwaving, dripping Higher Power deity whose ‘energy’ is Love.

          Giving up fundamentalism doesn’t automatically default to atheism. Not by a long shot.

          My guess is that the “body of Jesus” folks would simply re-think their view of God and discover that the new version is even better than the old one.

          • PeteJohn
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

            God is so amazing for having made everything THIS way!

          • krzysztof1
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

            That’s a good point–not all lapsed fundies become atheists. I wonder what the ratio is.

      • AdamK
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        I’m still waiting for the body of Prometheus with the liver torn out.

      • AdamK
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        And how would you identify it as specifically Jesus’ body? After ~2000 years?

        • Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          Erm…I think that’s the point….

          b&

        • Sastra
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          In theory, I suppose you could conceivably make up a whole slew of ‘amazing coincidences’ and documentation so that a 2,000 year old corpse is more likely than not to be the Jesus of the Bible (think of papers with testimonies and certificates hidden in a grave with a crucified man named “Jesus also known as the Christ.”) If nothing else, there could be enough evidence for those weird Christians who think scientific explanations for miracles somehow prove the Bible was right to jump on in triumph: “See, see, Jesus DID exist after all!”

          You’re probably getting to the part where the person who initially said that he’d change his mind if they ever found the Jesus corpse would come up with excuse after excuse to reject the evidence, no matter how strong the likelihood. Maybe… maybe even ‘probably’… but one ought to begin by assuming honesty (in theory.)

          I never asked the people who brought up the “find the corpse of Jesus” falsifiction to explain further. Or, if I did, I forgot what they said.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            “find the corpse of Jesus”

            Worst. Easter. Ever.

            • Sastra
              Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

              LOL!

            • Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

              They’d have to change an awful lot of hymn titles.

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

                Not if it was George Romero who found the body….

                b&

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:26 am | Permalink

                Lol.

                Wait a sec, Jesus is a zombie.

                I’m actually surprised by the total absence of the word “braaaainzzzz” in any hymn.

                (That I’m aware of)

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                If your claim is that hymnal lyrics are brainless, I’ll totally agree with you.

                b&

  19. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    These sites seem to be related in some way:- Creation Summit Inc. which features a clip from the Expelled movie including that wicked Dawkins chap plus free gratuitous Nazis and Creation Fair [for the kiddies]

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      By “related” I mean CreationSummit.com appears as a link on the Dare2Debate site.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        Here is the WhoIs info on the domain:

        [Querying whois.verisign-grs.com]
        [Redirected to whois.godaddy.com]
        [Querying whois.godaddy.com]
        [whois.godaddy.com]
        Domain Name: DARE2DEBATE.NET
        Registrar URL: http://www.godaddy.com
        Registrant Name: Mike Smith
        Registrant Organization:
        Name Server: NS1.WEBHOSTINGHUB.COM
        Name Server: NS2.WEBHOSTINGHUB.COM

  20. krzysztof1
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I once attended a solo performance by the late Duane Gish (in Nebraska). It was remarkably similar to what I have seen of his debates, except there was no opponent. The hall had seats for around 700-800 persons and it was packed, in a college town of about 6,000 population. I may have been the only skeptic present. He had the rest of the audience in his pocket. It was like an out-of-body experience for me!

  21. Romuald.
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    In 2002, strange events led the president Chirac of France to face, in the 2nd round of presidential elections, the dangerous racist LePen. Chirac did not accept any debate with LePen, for 2 reasons :
    (1) It would mean the idiocy of LePen was to be taken seriously.
    (2) He was in position of force(polls 80-20, wich happened to be accurate).

    IMHO, Evolutionists taking the same stance as Chirac in 2002 have the same reasons : they are in position of force, and don’t want do give dangerous nuttery too much credibility.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Yes.

      In my opinion the debates on religion though have the ‘position of force’ flipped — meaning that the theists are the ones with more to lose. A debate grants credibility to a marginalized belief. In many areas of the U.S. (and the world), can’t get much more marginalized than atheism.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      “IMHO, Evolutionists taking the same stance as Chirac in 2002 have the same reasons : they are in position of force, . . .

      Well, it depends on context. In the Chirac vs LePen example the population strongly supported Chirac, 80-20. In the Evolution vs Creationism example the population in question, the US population, does not strongly support Evolution. Just the opposite.

      If the context were which one more accurately models reality then sure, Evolution has the mandate. But the problem is that the majority of people in the US do not accept that.

      For that reason I am of the opinion that debates like this can be beneficial. Not to hash out what the more accurate position is. As already pointed out this type of debate is not an appropriate tool for determining scientific accuracy. The object of debates like this should be, in my opinion, to discredit Creationism and the carnys who work so hard, and often with a distinct and hypocritical lack of ethics, at selling it. This is politics not science.

      I have no issues with Jerry’s take on this, I think it is valid. The atheist debater doesn’t even need to be a scientist. Ideally they do need to be good at taking down the creationist while making them look ridiculous, and be able to do that with style. A bit better understanding of the details of the science would have been a plus, but even so I think Christopher Hitchens was nearly ideal for this.

      • Sastra
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        In that case evolutionary biologists would be right to refuse to debate Creationism in a academic setting — but should jump at the chance to do so in a church. Especially a fundamentalist church.

        Could be. Nowhere to go but ‘up’ for us — and nowhere for them to go but ‘down.’

  22. Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I wonder if this originated in Oklahoma, since the University of Oklahoma is mentioned as a debate site and Randy Hewes, Chair of Biology, is one of the listed ten. As far as I know Randy has not been an outspoken atheist.

    The University has been visited by Discovery Institute folks several times and received a very unfriendly welcome each time (as they posted on the DI web site).

    If anyone finds the source of this list, please let us know. There is a small number of creationists on the faculty (mostly in engineering) and one wonders if they are the source.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Dylan Goracke is Exec Vice Prez of Creation Summit, Inc. [Ardmore, Oklahoma]

      He was at Oklahoma State University
      [Mechanical Engineering Technology]

      Also associated with Creation Summit is a 61 year old retired Baptist minister named Mike C. Smith who lives in Ardmore, designs websites & house-sits to supplement his pension

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        and that seems to jive with the whois stuff.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Thanks. Read your other comment too. I think the whole operation is strictly a one or two man show run out of Mike’s den. I predict the “donate” button will become larger & more up front.

          P.S. You be careful now Diana cos Brujo Feo will be over here in a flash to offer up “jibe” 🙂

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

            LOL my comments were full of fails today.

  23. MAUCH
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I have always felt that a debate is no better than a rhetorical circus. If I want to learn about evolution I will read what Jerry Coyne has written. In turn if I desire to gain a deep insight into creation science I can listen to Ray Comfort.

  24. Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    “I suppose hat’s a metaphor for the mentality of these creationists.”

    I think you meant to write that’s

  25. Kevin Alexander
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    A debate is an argument.
    Creationists don’t have one.
    Why bother?

  26. Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    “William Lane Craig has at least debated…..”
    Sadly, William Lane Craig does not debate. He has never been seen to engage in an exchange of information. He ignores his opponent and sails-on, like a great galleon caught in the Westerly’s. He is deeply rooted in the proselytising tradition; all bluster and technique, covering a thousand tiny lies and half-truths. This he calls deductive reasoning! See a partial list of his tricks under his name in RationalWiki. I really do not think that he understands the idea of debate. His lifelong task is to bully others, particularly those of a simpler mind, to accept the ever spawning clap-trap of religion. Often I watch him speak and tick-off with my fingers the cleverly woven half-truths or quick and sneaky lies. If you have to talk to him (and you have a quick mind) have a little bell with which to ring at every lie or piece of deception.
    As to his ontological argument is incoherent. The trick in the use of syllogisms is to conceal that which you want to prove, in your early premises. And look at his first premise…concerning ‘maximal great being’. That is purely and absolutely a theological notion. No normal person could possibly countenance the idea of a ‘being’, never mind a ‘Maximally great’ one. I do not believe in ‘beings’ and certainly not the idea of ‘beings’ ranged in their greatness. What a bizarre proposal! I do not believe in ghosts, or little green men, or any other type of being, so I would stop him at word three to explain that he is trying to sneak an early god into his syllogism.
    Watch him on YouTube putting-down a student who suggested that the gods were above and beyond proof. WLC explodes that we can prove the Tyrannosaurus do not exist today and that there are no Muslims in the Senate!! See the flaws in his hurried and exasperated response? It is easy to demonstrate with little doubt that Tyrannosauruses do not exist today and that there are no Muslims in the Senate, but the supposed gods who supposedly rule over the earth are wrapped in uniquely nebulous language and are beyond any kind of reasoning. You cannot compare items from the natural world with items forged in the minds of theologians.
    You can get some measure of Craig Lane’s techniques of debate? On YOUTUBE…
    William Lane Craig Teaches a Young Punk a Lesson
    84 717 vues
    “An arrogant young college student tries to school William Lane Craig. However, Craig gave him a can of whip ass”

    All the more shocking is that the clip is introduced as …
    “Young condescending naïve arrogant impressionable little atheist punk…”

    Is that debate? Or, is that the great bluster of a man who has lost the argument?

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    A defeasible post indeed! Much as I like the basic idea of a defeasibility test, as opposed to the outsiders test false positives makes it problematic in many cases. And there are many other reasons for no debate, which was eminently summed up here.

    But I can see the use of the defeasibility test in analyzing pseudo- and antiscience. The very first creationist sentence shows how they hold to an indefensible idea: “The “missing links” are missing because they just don’t exist.” The correct response when seeing biologists claim the contrary is of course to ask “what is considered evidence for a missing link” – that way lies learning and criticism.

    “You have dialed a number that cannot be reached.”

    Snort!

  28. Sastra
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    In many cases, the Defeasibility Test is the debate.

  29. Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks to G. Branch for this information on the ‘debate request post. I have deleted email address and phone number, but they may be found on the web site.
    ——————
    Registrant Name: Mike Smith
    Registrant Organization:
    Registrant Street: 720 N. Commerce
    Registrant Street: #721
    Registrant City: Ardmore
    Registrant State/Province: Oklahoma
    Registrant Postal Code: 73401
    Registrant Country: United States
    Admin Name: Mike Smith
    Admin Organization:
    Admin Street: 720 N. Commerce
    Admin Street: #721
    Admin City: Ardmore
    Admin State/Province: Oklahoma
    Admin Postal Code: 73401
    Admin Country: United States
    Admin Phone: 5804906598
    Admin Fax:
    Admin Email: mike7747@hotmail.com
    Tech Name: Mike Smith
    Tech Organization:
    Tech Street: 720 N. Commerce
    Tech Street: #721
    Tech City: Ardmore
    Tech State/Province: Oklahoma
    Tech Postal Code: 73401
    Tech Country: United States
    Tech Phone: 5804906598
    Tech Fax:
    Tech Email: mike7747@hotmail.com

    Smith also runs CREATIONSUMMIT.COM.
    ——————

    Just another ignorant kook from these parts.

  30. Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    OOps. Somehow the address and email did not delete>

  31. Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    These historic debates with creationists are, like, literally a waste of time.

    (And the least they could have done is to call this site a… )

  32. Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    “Second, those opponents, since they’re already practiced in lying for Jesus, have a strong incentive to lie about accepting the defeasibility test so they can get you on the platform with them.”

    As soon as they get on stage, get them to reaffirm their acceptance of the test, and then if at any time they back out of it, remind them of their acceptance and explain to the audience why you are stopping the debate.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Technically, they can’t lie about their acceptance of the defeasibility test.

      Are there any considerations, arguments, evidence, or reasons, even hypothetically that could possibly lead me to change my mind about God?

      It’s not enough to say “yeah.” You have to give an example, a hypothetical specific which represents at least one sort of event or evidence or experience which, if true, could conceivably change your mind.

  33. Barry Lyons
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    What’s the best way to resolve this conundrum? Dawkins won’t debate Craig, and, rightly, neither will Jerry.

    On the one hand, you have this offer for a ludicrous “debate” — and we know there’s no need for one (just as there’s no need to have a debate about gravity), but if atheists decline they are perceived by theists as chickening out. On the other hand, if they agree to have debates, the mere presence of Jerry or Dawkins gives Craig and his ilk credibility (as Jerry has remarked in an earlier post).

    So what’s the most effective way out of this Catch 22? I’m not sure if I have the answer.

    • eric
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      if atheists decline they are perceived by theists as chickening out.

      Only by creationists. Most of the public would be largely unaware of the invitation-response altogether. And if they are aware…well, I’ll bet Dawkins’ classic response reaches more of the mainstream public than the creationist sides’ PR.

  34. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I also forgot to add that these people are disrespectful! Don’t they know that Jerry is a member of the Darwin Lobby and a radical evolutionary atheist? Jeez, get the creds right!

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      You forgot militant. All atheists are militant.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      That’s the “well-funded Darwin Lobby”.

      • Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        If by “well-funded” you mean that our funding comes from the wishing well, I’m afraid you’re right….

        b&

  35. Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Hoo-boy. Quite late to the party. Haven’t read any of the replies yet.

    I would personally fail the defeasibility test, but not for lack of rationality. Rather, I’ve yet to encounter a coherent proposed definition of a god, so how could I possibly consider acceding to belief in one?

    Now, I’ll readily concede that it’s at least theoretically possible, for example, for some hitherto-unimagined cache of evidence to be discovered that demonstrates that one Jesus of Nazareth really did go on his great mystery tour, complete with zombification and all, and that the evidence that it all really happened is incontrovertible and the current state of overwhelming evidence against is part of some grand conspiracy of some sort.

    But that still wouldn’t do diddlysquat for Jesus’s modern failures to call 9-1-1. And it especially would do nothing to establish his “omnipotence” or “omniscience,” as those would be his true claim to godhood…and both properties are as logically absurd as married bachelorhood.

    The religious have created a problem for themselves. They’ve taken literary devices in which the whole point of the plot twist is its very utter impossibility, even in theory…and gone and pretended that this impossible fiction is actually real. Worse, if it turns out to be demonstrated that the impossible actually is possible, the fact of its possibility removes it from consideration as divine criteria. Anybody today can fly or participate in a video teleconference, but that clearly doesn’t make us gods.

    The fact that the religious have set this deliberately-impossible challenge for themselves is their problem, not mine. It’s not my fault that they’re claiming the impossible is real, and I’ll not be ashamed to refuse to grant them the possibility that a married man really could be a bachelor.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      “I’ve yet to encounter a coherent proposed definition of a god, so how could I possibly consider acceding to belief in one?”

      Someone used this as an argument for why I couldn’t be an atheist since there was no coherent definition of god how could I say I didn’t believe in god(s). I think I said something about from what has been asserted about gods especially their super naturalness (yeah I did it, I put a “ness” on there) I saw no evidence of these assertions.

      • Sastra
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        People who argue that there are no atheists (nor theists, for that matter) because the definition of God is too incoherent are called noncognitivists.

        I think the most basic definition of “God” is just barely coherent enough to be wrong.

        Noncognitivists can be annoying, not least because many of them seem to think they’re in the smug ‘a-pox-on-both-your-houses’ Middle Ground above the fray.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          Yes & just seems like a cop out to me.

        • Posted August 16, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          I would certainly argue that there are no coherent non-trivial definitions of the term, “god,” but I most emphatically don’t get from there to “…so therefore there aren’t any atheists nor theists.” You could easily imagine a popular cult espousing the virtues of married bachelorhood; the fact that the concept is incoherent wouldn’t stop there from being those in favor of it from espousing it, nor rationalists from distancing themselves from the folly.

          I would also, if you don’t mind, like to have a swing at your barely-coherent definition as — as I’ve repeatedly noted — I’ve yet to encounter any that even rises to that level. The closest ones I’ve encountered either of idols, especially including the latest teen heartthrobs or hyperintelligent alien shades of the color blue. And none of them are anything that anybody other than a hardcore dogmatic agnostic would recognize as divine, either.

          b&

          • Sastra
            Posted August 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Ben Goren wrote:

            I would also, if you don’t mind, like to have a swing at your barely-coherent definition as — as I’ve repeatedly noted — I’ve yet to encounter any that even rises to that level.

            Okay. Here’s what I have:

            God: “a creative, non-material mental agent or essence which underpins what we can experience of reality in a way which is significant to human beings.”

            Note that I’m leaving off the omnis (which may well be incoherent) and stripping the concept down to elements which it really can’t do without (some form of duality or Pure Mind; some sort of connection to the existence of the world; importance to human beings.) I’m also trying to make the definition vague enough to include the Eastern and New Age versions of God (remember, I’m a former transcendentalist)as well as pagan forms which can be quite literal or non-universe creating.

            If this definition is analyzed too far it will eventually fall apart, sure. But on the surface I think it works — and theism is all surface (while pretending to be deep.) God is not supposed to be reducible to material explanations; it’s supposed to be thinkable on the level a child might think on, intuitive and vague and somehow familiar.

            Then they drag in the bells and whistles: more intuition, more vagueness, or more details.

            • Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

              Hmmm…it’s a nice try, but it’s actually a well-disguised self-contradiction.

              You’ve got a “non-material agent,” yet said agent “underpins reality.” Reality could conceivably be more than material, but it is emphatically material in addition to whatever else it is. If there’s something somehow underpinning the material, it’s just a more fundamental form of the material, much like quarks are more fundamental than atoms. You might as well say that the wall is not “essentially” (or whatever) a brick wall, even though it’s made of bricks and it’s bricks that underpin its reality.

              This is further evidenced by the creative nature of this god (not) of yours. Creation ex nihilo is another incoherent self-contradiction (that we can discuss, if you like); rather, creative processes are ones that rearrange existing “stuff” into a new form. In this case, when the god is done creating we have the material world; we therefore know that the material world is just a rearrangement of whatever the god started with. That starting stuff and the material world are fundamentally of the same stuff, even if rearranged beyond recognition.

              If you care, the closest I’ve ever actually encountered for a coherent definition of, “god,” would be the programmers of a Matrix-style simulation. But even that falls short: whence the programmers? But it’s worth noting that, for all the cyberpunk hipness of the movie, Matrix, it’s actually very conservative orthodox gnosticism (if that isn’t itself a contradiction). And many believers see reality as very much akin to their favored god(s) playing the role of Alice’s Red King, so it’s not a mischaracterization of religious belief.

              But, again…whence the programmers?

              Ultimately, all gods are utterly dependent on the impossible, in some for or another — for the simple reason that they are literary devices whose actual purpose is their impossibility. If it’s possible, it’s not of interest or relevance to the gods. If it’s impossible, it’s not actually real. Thus are the horns in which gods are hung.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Sastra
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote:

                Hmmm…it’s a nice try, but it’s actually a well-disguised self-contradiction.
                You’ve got a “non-material agent,” yet said agent “underpins reality.”

                No; I said that the non-material agent/essence underpins what we can experience of reality. We experience physical reality; we also experience our own conscious states. God is supposed to be the agent/essence which either supports this part of reality, lies behind it, “rules” it, and/or transcends it all.

                If there’s something somehow underpinning the material, it’s just a more fundamental form of the material, much like quarks are more fundamental than atoms.

                That’s a hypothesis — or maybe a working theory (and almost certainly correct.) But it’s an “astonishing hypothesis” and theists are committed to denying it. They’re dualists (mind vs. matter) and/or idealistic monists (all matter is really just mind.)The Mind behind it all is “God.” Just as they assume there is a ghost in the machine for them, they continue on to assume there is a ghost in the universe at large.

                They’re wrong, but they’re not incoherent. Which was my point. They’re only making category errors and contradictions if you know how things actually work and interpret with those premises.

                But they’re not obvious premises. Anything but. Science is hard and the knowledge it eventually gave us was unexpected. Religion is soft, fuzzy, and intuitive. It slops around riding on “common sense.”

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                All dualism is add a layer of obfuscation to the contradiction.

                Let’s go ahead and assume full-fledged dualism, in whatever form you wish to give it.

                The nonmaterial mind still interacts with the material body. It is aware of what the body experiences, and the body reacts as desired in response to commands from the mind. The body is touched, and the mind knows it has been touched; the mind wills it, and the body reaches out and touches.

                There is clearly a linkage there, and a most intimate one at that.

                Whatever that linkage is, it must be conceptually seen as no different from magnetism or gravity or any other spooky action at a distance. Even if it is not a force carried by particles that can even theoretically be detected in an accelerator (and cue Torbjorn about how there’s no room for any such to be hiding), there is that intimate linkage, and it is logically no different from any real field made of other than baryonic matter.

                Which means that the two are, fundamentally, the same “stuff,” even if they’re two sides of the same coin which never can see each other.

                And, again, this is made all the more emphatic when it is the minds of the gods which gives form to physical existence. As I wrote, I’m happy to get into the logical incoherence of ex nihilio, but if you’re willing to grant me as much then you must similarly grant me that the substantial would therefore have to be a rearrangement of the stuff of the minds of the gods from which they were made.

                Hope this makes sense….

                b&

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                “If there’s something somehow underpinning the material, it’s just a more fundamental form of the material… ” is just a (well-validated) naturalistic hypothesis. Taking this to be true, the mental only ever emerges from the material; it has no independent existence.

                Implicit in Sastra’s definition of “God” is his definition of the supernatural (various threads some months back) which has the mental existing without the material. In a Sastra’s-God-ist’s view, the material emerges from or is underpinned by the mental. (So Sastra’s-God is also a Deepakity.)

                So, the definition is not intrinsically incoherent, it’s just contradicted to the degree that philosophical naturalism is validated by science — i.e., overwhelmingly so.

                (And Sastra’s definition deliberately avoided a “creative nature”, ex nihilo or otherwise, as he noted: “as well as pagan forms which can be quite literal or non-universe creating.”)

                /@

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                (And Sastras definition deliberately avoided a creative nature, ex nihilo or otherwise, as he noted: as well as pagan forms which can be quite literal or non-universe creating.)

                We must not be reading the same definition:

                God: a creative, non-material mental agent or essence which underpins what we can experience of reality in a way which is significant to human beings.

                Emphasis added, of course.

                Naturally, if the gods are defined as the uncreative creators, I’ll just rest my case about self-contained contradictions right here….

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                Ant wrote:

                In a Sastra’s-God-ist’s view, the material emerges from or is underpinned by the mental. (So Sastra’s-God is also a Deepakity.)

                As far as I can tell, it’s also a Yahwehism (?) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God just thinks things into physical existence with its mental power.

                I have run this definition by many believers. So far they have often complained that it’s not complete enough — they want to tweak it and dress it up — but iirc nobody has complained that it is actually wrong.

                (Or, if they have, they wouldn’t say why or where. Probably too clear and specific for the handwaving theologians and their unknowable mysteries.)

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

                Oh, yeah, I took the יהוהism as a given.

                Word. 😉

                /@

              • Sastra
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren rote:

                … you must similarly grant me that the substantial would therefore have to be a rearrangement of the stuff of the minds of the gods from which they were made.
                Hope this makes sense….

                You better hope it doesn’t. It sounds suspiciously like theology … 😉

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                Hey — you started it!

                But the point stands: whether the physical is an emergent property of the fundamental mind or vice-versa, it’s clear that both are ultimately cut from the same cloth. Even if the one is the pattern woven into the fabric and the other is the motion of it blowing in the wind.

                Theosophistric enough for you?

                b&

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

                OK, it’s very hard to follow this discussion, indented as it is; the following is offered as an addition to what Sastra said, “You better hope it doesn’t. It sounds suspiciously like theology”.

                “Just what kind of noose are you offering to put round my neck, here? Is this treason?”
                “Worse,” Cazaril sighed. “Theology.” Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 1:41 am | Permalink

                @ Ben Goren at 6:27

                Argh — I misread that. But just change what I wrote to “… a ‘creative nature’, ex nihilo or otherwise, as he noted…”

                /@

            • Sastra
              Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

              As I wrote above:

              (Theists) are dualists (mind vs. matter) and/or idealistic monists (all matter is really just mind.)The Mind behind it all is “God.”

              You’re arguing for monism. That’s fine. But the big divide is over whether mind comes from matter — or matter comes from mind. Idealistic monism = a form of theism. If you find it more or less coherent, then so is “God.”

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

                So, if we apply this clarification to your original definition, we have neither the god nor reality being (ultimately) material, so we can strike the non-material as something of a distraction. And I think ex nihilio is safely off the table. So we’re left with a god as, essentially, the programmer of the Matrix or Alice’s Red King or Zhuangzi’s Butterfly.

                Now, I will grant you that such is logically consistent. Impossible to disprove, even, thanks to Turing and Gödel.

                But wouldn’t you agree that such a god is no more worthy of deification than some pimply-faced youth playing Sim City, except for the scale? And is it really useful to adopt a relational definition for the term, “god”? It leaves us with the possibility of gods having gods of their own, and of the gods’s supplicants themselves being gods.

                It’s an inevitable logical consequence of your definition, and I don’t think it’s something at all compatible with the typical notion of the term, “god.” Indeed, for most, there can be only one.

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote:

                So, if we apply this clarification to your original definition, we have neither the god nor reality being (ultimately) material, so we can strike the non-material as something of a distraction. And I think ex nihilio is safely off the table. So we’re left with a god as, essentially, the programmer of the Matrix or Alice’s Red King or Zhuangzi’s Butterfly.

                How does that conclusion follow? I don’t get it.

                God has been defined as “a creative, non-material mental agent or essence which underpins what we can experience of reality in a way which is significant to human beings.” The programmer of the Matrix, the Red King, etc. are all supposed to be essentially material, not non-material.

                People get very, very excited over a pure “mind-like” non-material reality because this means that values, morals, and all sorts of mental goodies (like intentional direction, for example) are now directly embedded (or are capable of being directly embedded) into the fundamental nature of how things are. And my definition makes clear that for God to be God these values, morals, etc. would have to be significant to human beings.

                Or, at least, they’d have to be significant — and ultimate — to the human beings who call it “God.”

              • Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                Put it this way.

                If crucial to your definition is the notion that mind and matter are not different manifestations drawn from the same fundamental reality, there’s your logical contradiction: they’re totally separate yet intimately linked.

                If you’re willing to grant that they are made of the same stuff, only that (divine) mind gives form to matter, then that’s just a poetic way to describe the logical construction of the Matrix. (Remember: we don’t even know if they have electrons in the “real” universe in which the simulation is running — let alone Sun workstations.) But that definition makes video game players gods themselves, and leaves open the possibility that your gods are themselves merely being dreamt of by the Red King.

                So…pick your poison. I’m cool with either.

                b&

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 1:28 am | Permalink

                “we don’t even know if they have … Sun workstations.”

                Better ask an oracle.

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 17, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

                Ouch!

              • Sastra
                Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote:

                If crucial to your definition is the notion that mind and matter are not different manifestations drawn from the same fundamental reality, there’s your logical contradiction: they’re totally separate yet intimately linked.

                From what I’ve seen a theist routinely separates some aspects of mind from others and declares that these mental characteristics (Consciousness; Love; The Creative Impulse; Purpose; whatever) are THE fundamental reality which gives rise to everything else. In theism the irreducible ultimate thing is always something mind-like, not something completely mindless and meaningless.

                You’ve got it backwards I think. The Matrix was the metaphor, a poetic way to play with the supernatural assumption which posits that the physical, material, natural world is only an illusion. The distinction between the video-game player Matrix “gods” and the concept of God itself would lie in where the fundamental reality eventually terminates. If it’s some form of highly significant Pure Mind encompassing all of reality, then it’s “God.”

              • Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                But that’s just it: from a logical perspective — and, remember it is the question of logical coherence we’re addressing — it matters not whether matter comes from mind nor mind from matter; they’re both made of the same stuff. Either matter is literally composed of mind (as in your definition) or vice-versa (in the real world) or they’re both composed of some other, more fundamental “stuff.” But, whichever the case, they’re all the same stuff. But your definition also insists that, though they’re made of the same stuff, they’re also not made of the same stuff; thus, the contradiction.

                Further, put yourself in the shoes of one of the characters in the video game. You have no way of knowing if your reality is all-encompassing or not. You don’t even have a way of knowing if reality is as it appears to you or not. Indeed, you have the perception that you’re a mighty warrior in a magical kingdom, but the reality is you’re just a pattern of electrons in a computer.

                Not only is that the same position we are in with respect to the proposed god, but it’s the same position any such god would be in itself. That is, even if the god is what sustains our reality, the god has no way of knowing whether or not it, itself, is in some way sustained by some other even more fundamental even deeper reality.

                And if a god can’t even know whether or not it’s just a character in somebody’s very elaborate video game, of what sense does it make to declare it a god — especially if the definition also demands that we deify everybody at the video game arcade (if such even still exist…)?

                Cheers,

                b&

    • jdhuey
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I have exactly the same response as you do. I get the impression that the religious think that when they ask about what evidence would convince me about the existence of God that they are envisioning a set of evidence that would convince me that a particular person exists over in the next state. When, as you point out, they are really asking what evidence would convince you that a very poorly defined fictional super-hero type character (along with the supporting universe) actually exists. Think of all the changes that would have to occur in this world for Batman to actually exist as depicted in the comic books. And with Batman, you don’t even have to change the physical laws of the Universe like with say Superman.

  36. staffordgordon
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    How come Doctor Andy Thomson isn’t listed!

    Stafford Gordon.

  37. Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Such debates (against creationists) remind me of the internet memes of the following variety:

    “here is a goat in a suit, ergo your argument is invalid” or
    “here is a bunny with a pancake on its head, therefore you are wrong”, etc.

  38. Kieran
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I have a quote mine stick and I’m not afraid to use it!

    How can you convert to evolution, wouldn’t the process be to accept evolution and reject the inferior hypothesis?

    Fingers crossed blockquote will work

    • Kieran
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Clearly didn’t work, ah well

      “effected several conversions to evolution”

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Nice quote (it was obvious enough.)

      People who believe in God/creationism don’t realize that there is no real danger of ever losing their faith. If they stop believing in God they will merely consider it a matter of changing their minds. It’s not a loss; it’s a gain.

  39. Taylor M. Brown
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    They called Steven Pinker condescending! Those are fightin’ words!

  40. Stafford Gordon
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    “Debate with a Creationist” is an oxymoron.

    A rational individual can’t debate with someone who’s delusional, so how can they possibly “win” any argument with them?

    Discussing facts with someone who is deluded is like trying to sweep water into a pile.

    And to make things worse, if that is possible, Intelligent Design advocates flatly refuse to learn anything about Evolution, and year after decade continuously trot out the same old tired and tiring fatuous notion that there is no evidence for Natural Selection.

    Oh, and they cling like mad to the why question, studiously ignoring the how one.

    Just keep them away from children is all.

    Stafford Gordon.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      “Just keep them away from children is all.”

      Ecco.

  41. @eightyc
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I’m not quite clear on what you will actually consider as evidence for God.

    In other words, how can you tell whether or not something is God or is just something that you do not yet understand?

    It also is possible that something exists that you will never understand. Do you then call that something, God?

    • Notagod
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      how can you tell whether or not something is God

      I think the god approved method is to nail it to a christ stick. Then just take It into the lab.

  42. moarscienceplz
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    “Some, like P. Z. Myers, have specified that there is no evidence of any sort that could convince them of a god’s existence, and we differ on this issue”

    I could potentially be convinced that life on Earth was created by technologically advanced aliens. But if you want me to accept that the entire universe was created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being, well, first you’d have to establish that such a being was even possible, and I honestly can’t even imagine what sort of evidence could be provided for such an outlandish claim.

    • Notagod
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I lean toward not being convinced because the concept of a god appearing before anything is outlandish. If something godish-like evolved in some other time-space then created the time-space we inhabit, then, It is nothing more than a kid with an erection……set.

  43. Nwalsh
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    To make it an even dozen I would have added Sam Harris and Anthony Grayling.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Perhaps for a debate on atheism vs. theism, but this is for a debate on evolution.

  44. jh
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    The logic seems to be “if I take down a prominent atheist, the case for Jesus has been made.” But debates are often more about the skills of the debaters than the topic being debated. Real debate is settled by better theories and evidence in the public arena today primarily through books and journals and secondarily through lectures and TV documentaries. Debates are sometimes referred to as a rhetorical device like the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, but often it is more to make a rhetorical point than the actual debate itself, and in this way can play a role in the history of science.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Yes. The religious position is pretty much indefensible against scientific-grade evidence, so I think that is why most hard-core religionistas are so authoritarian oriented. The ability to whip out an obscure Bible quote, or even better, a clever insult becomes the test of a good religious debater. Of course, this fails to explain why Sarah Palin ever became popular, except perhaps that the standard that defines a clever insult has been drastically lowered in recent years.

      • jh
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        You betcha!

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        At least as to the straight men, it’s that she has a symmetrical face, a curvacious bod, and, isn’t likely to make the lower percentiles feel intellectually challenged. Same thing that works for Michelle Bachmann and any number of other “hot” Republican women. Pretty simple in terms of evolution; even Faux Snooze understands that. Anyone here feel any particular need to impregnate Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, or Barbara Boxer?

        • Posted August 17, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          This remark is sexist and I decry it.

          • Brujo Feo
            Posted August 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

            It’s not sexist at all. It’s a simple statement of fact. One might think that to an evolutionary biologist it would be practically tautological.

            • Posted August 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

              There are other reasons that Palin became popular besides her looks, her symmetrical face (and how do you know she has one?), even to straight men. And don’t lecture me on evolutionary biology, please.

              I think you need to frequent websites other than this one.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted August 17, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          In fact Pelosi, Clinton, and Boxer all have children.

          • Brujo Feo
            Posted August 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

            Yes…of course. By men who KNOW them. But read the original comment, which referenced Palin being POPULAR, which by definition involves the reactions of people who do NOT.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 17, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          Well, it appears that Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer have had much more enduring professional success than Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann so the picture you paint of female success as based solely on their sexuality seems to be a false one.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      You’re right in many ways. I mean, hypothetically, if I were to debate WLC on the issue of whether god existed or not, he’d argue circles around me with one logical fallacy after another. He’s a better rhetorician than I, and knows his talking points for every conceivable argument. (Notice I didn’t say “logical counter argument,” because they aren’t that. They’re just things he can whip off and bullshit his audience and his opponent, if said opponent isn’t on his/her game with HIS/HER talking points (and I certainly wouldn’t)).

  45. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    “Peter considers this idea to be one of the “most important to come down the pike in a long time.” And I do think that Loftus’s related argument, in which he says that believers must apply the same standards to their own faith that they use when rejecting other faiths, is a great contribution to the science/religion debates.”

    A great idea indeed. But the philosopher David Hume expressed as much in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”.

  46. Gary W
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Where are Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett? Dennett’s absence from their list is particularly surprising given that he’s said that evolution by natural selection is the best idea anyone has ever had.

    • jh
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Maybe they are truly terrified to debate these two – a backhanded complement. I could see that with Harris, not so much with Dennett who is so mild mannered even when he gets emotional.

      • PeteJohn
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        Dennett also says “ahm” a lot. I love his ideas but typically read what he has to say instead of watching his speeches. However I’d love to meet the guy, he’s like the 1st Teddy Bear rather than a 4th Horseman.

  47. jh
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed many of the youtube debates between atheists and believers, especially some like where Hitchens takes down very irritating religious conservative types like D’Souza, or even how, yours truly, Jerry Coyne totally demolished John Haught’s sophistry. But public debates don’t advance knowledge the way debates in the form of competing books and journal articles over time do.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Perhaps public debates are like the old joke about the man on the beach walking amongst thousands of stranded, dying starfish, patiently throwing them back one-by-one into the sea. When someone argues that there is no point to such an exercise since there are so many starfish and thus nothing he does matters, the old man throws in another starfish and calmly replies “it mattered to that one.”

  48. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    They are just as guilty of conflict if they rail against religious beliefs for lacking rational justification, but in turn there are no possible considerations that could ever lead them to relinquish their doubts.

    I dislike this way of phrasing it. There might well be possible considerations that could persuade us that a sentient being of vast power played a role in the origins or our universe, our planet, or our species. But I would hope that having established that, we would not suddenly become credulous faith-heads eager to take everything the being says at face value. Skepticism remains an essential component of rational inquiry, and we certainly don’t want to relinquish that.

  49. JBlilie
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I once had a colleague (dyed-in-the-wool Republican of course) tell me that he liked to “win” debates (discussions) by confusing his “opponent” by exercising a weird bodily quirk that he could effect (make one eye move without the the other moving).

    This perfectly demonstrates what most GOP people (not all, not all) are after in a “debate” or discussion: “winning”. Truth? Don’t care.

    And if I have to shout you down (O’Reilly anyone? Limbaugh anyone?) to “win” then they will do so. If they need to blatantly lie or be hypocrites to “win”, no problem. Why would anyone want to “debate” such a person. As Dr. C. notes: It just becomes a performance.

    Who cares?

    • Gary W
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Yawn. Yet again with the partisan politics. And no, your anecdote does not “demonstrate” anything about “most GOP people.” Alas, specious generalizations seem to be a common cognitive error among both believers and non-believers.

      • Notagod
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        The first step to getting help is to admit there is a problem. Unlike you, your leaders have recently admit it. They haven’t the foggiest idea what to do though.

  50. Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Please no that this “organization” has nothing to do with those of us who are actually employed by the University of Oklahoma.

  51. Gordon
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Both evolution v creationist and political debates are designed to obscure the issue be it the science or the policies. Such debates would both best be reported as sports news.
    I also noted the usual cheap dig about lawyers in the test. With lawyers everyone knows what the game is and there are rules to regulate it. And just to throw in a late thought re recent posts on medical ethics and the “right” to refuse treatment on religious grounds-a quick look at the barristers’ code of ethics in NZ suggests no such exception of such a nature. A catholic criminal lawyer in principle should not be able to refuse to represent the local abortionist. Of course lack of time or similiar could be used as an excuse but not religion-just thought I would get if off my chest. The barristers I know take the “taxi-cab”principle very seriously.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t see it as a cheap dig at lawyers, but simply a statement of fact that when a lawyer is trying to win a case, what is true and what are facts are not the only things relevant to the case. Persuading the jury and/or the judges can often go beyond known facts to conjecture, especially when the defense is trying to provide reasonable doubt. Rhetorical skill can be a great asset to a lawyer, but isn’t purely dedicated to truth.

      Certainly you wouldn’t argue against the proposition that sometimes innocent people are convicted, and guilty people set free. That is the point: the skill of the lawyer can result in an outcome that doesn’t represent the truth.

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Certainly you wouldn’t argue against the proposition that sometimes innocent people are convicted,….

        IANAL but I understand that the current US Supreme Court has ruled that the truth is irrelevant. If an innocent man goes through the system and is condemned to death then die he must.

      • Gordon
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        I tended to read “casuistry”, “sophistry” and “rhetorically masterful defenses of every side of an issue” as not being intended to suggest praise. I come back to the basic point that the job of barrister (or any lawyer arguing in court) is to present their client’s case in the best possible light. In doing so any competent lawyer will utilise whatever freedom the particular judicial system allows. “Truth” is not the barrister’s concern, that is the concern of the decision maker. Adversarial systems tend to encourage legal showmanship especially where there is a jury. As I understand the US system jury trials are very common in civil cases, not only criminal cases, something that is not true in other major common law jurisdictions. That characteristic would almost certainly lead to a quite different style of advocacy than when one has to present a case to a hard-bitten professional judge (and of course another relevant point is unlike other jurisdictions many US judges are elected). Unlike TV, and I really have no idea of US court reality, most trials including criminal ones are quite boring 80+ per cent of the time and judges do tend to seriously focus on making the best decision on the basis of the evidence and arguments presented to them.

        That being off my chest I would add that a court or similar venue is not a place you would ever want to settle serious theoretical scientific questions (there are enough problems trying to sort out the interpretation of expert evidence of a scientific character). As a lawyer interested in science, I trust the scientists not because I understand the science but because I understand how the scientific process works over the medium to long term. An important feature of any system, law or science, is its ability to self-correct. On this science may have an edge given the luxury of a longer time-frame.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          “Sophistry” wasn’t applied to lawyers, but “casuistry” was. And “rhetorically masterful” seems rather complimentary.

          I take your point, and if I were a lawyer I might be more sensitive to it. But as I read through this I only took away the idea that debates aren’t the right mode of inquiry for discovering truth, not that pesky lawyers are ruining the world.

          For what it’s worth, I have great respect for the legal profession.

          • Gordon
            Posted August 17, 2013 at 12:24 am | Permalink

            Looks like we agree then.
            Cheers

  52. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Re the topic of debating creationists, there’s a quote from George Bernard Shaw that seems particularly apposite:
    “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

    (And thanks to moarscienceplz who quoted it on another thread).

  53. kelskye
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    On a debate forum I occasionally post in, a believer proudly declared that there’s no scientific evidence that shows God doesn’t exist (with the implication being that atheists are wrong to do so). I asked him what possible scientific evidence could show to him that God doesn’t exist, his response was that we wouldn’t be able to have any knowledge if God didn’t exist.

    It’s that same situation – someone making a proud declaration about God and the evidence, but framing the question in such a way that the belief could never be overcome. The problem, at that point, is that God ceases to be a meaningful concept – since in effect all evidence neither counts for nor against God’s existence. At that point, there’s no point of engaging, though as it was on a public forum, it’s worth pointing out why it’s not worth engaging.

    And that’s the one thing that I’m curious about with this test. Even if the opponent’s position is indefeasible, it doesn’t guarantee that the rest of the audience is too. Gish might be irredeemable (I remember reading a Shermer anecdote where during the debate Gish was going on about the missing links in the whale fossil record, Shermer pointed out that one had just been found, to which Gish replied that now there’s two missing links! – Irredeemable!) but perhaps the audience who comes can be swayed.

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      BUNK! (Crap video, but the clip is golden.)

      /@

    • Sastra
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      kelskye wrote:

      I asked him what possible scientific evidence could show to him that God doesn’t exist, his response was that we wouldn’t be able to have any knowledge if God didn’t exist.

      That’s the sort of answer which shows that the guy didn’t understand the question. “What would change your mind?” assumes that someone has misinterpreted evidence, not that all the data disappears.

      It would be like two people arguing over the composition of the rings of Saturn. One says the rings are made of ice particles; the other says they’re made of fairy dust. When asked “what would convince you that the rings are NOT made out of fairy dust?” the second guy answers “if they weren’t there.”

      Doesn’t work that way.

      Your believer was refusing to entertain an alternative explanation for “our ability to have knowledge.” If anything, his defeasibility example would only confirm his belief that God is necessary to enable the existence of knowledge. But of course presupp arguments are circular: they circle around God.

      • kelskye
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        “That’s the sort of answer which shows that the guy didn’t understand the question.”
        Yeah, that’s the impression I came away with. In my reply, I did make reference to how other people see the relationship (including Vic Stenger and his book God The Failed Hypothesis), but there are some people it’s just not worth arguing with.

        I think the problem with this question is that it’s not necessarily an ill-informed question to ask, but that the person asking it didn’t really know what to do with such a question.

  54. Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    “an evolutionist can debate only if you’re open to evidence and argument against evolution—and presumably for religion.”

    I don’t think you can presume that at all. There might be some explanations for the origins of life and of species (the second quite different from Darwin’s) that owe nothing to religion, we just haven’t thought of them yet. Or abiogenesis and species diversification might happen exactly as we have so far supposed, and there could also be a non-corporeal being of immense power and knowledge and benevolence (yet presumably not infinite in all of those) that had set it all in motion, or even constantly tampers.

    There are logical paradoxes to the theism of the creationists, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some rationally defensible theisms, out there, somewhere, perhaps…

    • Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      I think about the only logically defensibly types of deities are tyrants who successfully demand worship through force of arms. And you can dream up examples, historical and fictional, till the cows come home. Every emperor (by definition), space aliens, the programmers of the Matrix….

      But, of course, nobody — not even the YHWHists — wants to admit to being a bullied sycophant; thus, such an argument, though logically defensible, it would never actually be used.

      (And, yes, there’re those who spout variations on the theme, making arguments along the lines of, “Jesus brought you into this world so how dare you question him?” Even they’ll insist that it’s the power of Jesus’s love that somehow trumps all.)

      b&

  55. Mark Joseph
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    The indefeasibility test reminds me a lot of another brilliant, short essay that I highly recommend: “The Two Questions” at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/the-two-questions/

    The Two Questions of the essay are:
    1) What evidence would falsify your chosen variety of creationism?
    2) What evidence would you accept as provisional proof of evolution?

  56. PeteJohn
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m a public school teacher who works at an elementary school. I’m a special educator, so I travel around a lot and work with an enormous range of kids. The biggest thing I’ve noticed over the years that many semi-annoying/disruptive things kids do, they do for attention. They don’t even care if they get in trouble, they just want someone to pay attention to them. For a kid like this, ignoring all but the most severe behaviors often causes the small, bothersome ones to go away.

    Creationists, particularly the professional debater types, are very similar. They don’t care if they come across as jerks or dishonest or downright nuts. They care only about having their message heard by some gullible souls who will then jump on the god bandwagon OR secure a stronger seat on said bandwagon. I wish I could say for certain they’d go away, but I don’t think that would happen in this case. An interesting parallel to this commenter, nonetheless.

  57. Dale Franzwa
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, this really isn’t an invitation to debate. These creationists, why, they’re making up a list, of folks who never would be missed. And, guess what? You’re on their list! They think you never would be missed. But, they’re wrong. Of course you would be . . . by cats, cowboy boots, fruit flies, even all of us. Your erudition, we just can’t resist.

    Thanks G & S (would I had only a smidgeon of your talent)

  58. Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that an interesting lesson from this and other threads is that we look to True Believers, and get quite different impressions as to what is going on in their heads. For me their religious beliefs are a potent and involuntary conviction (cf Paranoia) in which the victims know themselves to exist only as a part of a larger ‘authority-structure’ headed by a powerful and vindictive leader to which they must prostrate themselves and beg for forgiveness in case they have accidently offended the cruel bastard. Their miserable plight obliges them to pretend that the mass murderer they bow to is really a loving and benevolent being; a condition often known as ‘riding the tiger’ (You’re safe for now but when you fall off, you get eaten!)
    The religious conviction comes as a result of inherited precepts, which are difficult for you to dismantle even in the face of powerful contrary evidence. Part of your delusion is that the power-crazed gods demand that you should never try to look at the world around you, but always accept their word, no matter how crazy it sounds. The religious conviction prompts you to indulge in deception, distortion of hard fact, and the deliberate pursuit of logical possibility based upon your flawed understanding of the world even to the point of exponential error dispersion whereby you are obliged to make shit up faster than you can think.
    As to debating with you, I have this reply…
    “Your unwillingness to accept even basic factual evidence means that there can be no possible debate. You are like a simply man from a dark continent who turns-up in New York with a bucket of chicken entrails, eager to debate with a cardiologist the best way to diagnose medical conditions. It is simply not an even contest. ”

  59. Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Jerry, you wrote that you’ve “specified what would provisionally convince me of their existence.” I’m curious if you could point us to those specifications. I know some would nit-pick them, but I ask because I cannot think of any argument a person could make that would convince me; only an actual communication from a God would do it for me, but I might be missing something. I am very interested in what you would need.

    sean s.


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