Debate reminder: Friday at 7:30 pm

I’m glad you liked it. It’s an excellent series.

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I liked this debate much more than the previous one, partly because it was much smoother technically, and logistically. (I was streaming to my church audience).

I very much liked Shermer’s points about human progress and the fact (often stressed by Pinker) that the world is much better off than the headlines would have us believe. This is not necessarily a common POV among atheists, and I wish McGrath would have mentioned the role of religion (as well as science) in moving human civilization forward. But I suppose that could have opened a very familiar can of worms.

My favorite quote from McGrath was “We can only prove shallow truths” which serves as a great rejoinder to the frequent demands from some atheists that God needs to be proven.

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I feel like I’m being a tad dense here, so I’ll just state this so that I may be better informed: I like the idea of debates but I’m still trying to learn how it is useful here-since we hold a position of faith, not necessarily something that be argued. Seems like a lot of the responses amount to “null hypothesis.” It seems like both sides are arguing for different aspects. I’m very new to looking into these things this much so I’m open to corrections. I’d like to appreciate these as much as other onlookers so I hope not to be close minded in this regard.

That’s how these things often tend to go. As the presenter joked about a couple of times, they’re not going to reach a definite answer to the topic in 2 hours, or 2 or 2,000 years for that matter. For me, watching such debates is about listening to and evaluating the various arguments made. Maybe they’ll cause you to give more thought to something, and maybe they won’t. Getting any value out of it basically depends on your interest in going through that process.

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I’m also not a fan of debates, but for different reasons. To me, debates are too susceptible to the “gotcha” moment, or to a line of reasoning that the other party was not prepared to answer, or to a thousand other things that don’t have much to do with the actual question at hand. I’d much rather read their arguments in print, but that’s just me. I’m a visual learner; other people are auditory learners. To each his own …

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I feel debates of this type are useful for understanding the other side’s position. Most of the debates set up by universities are civil and respectful also, showing that it can be done. The only criticism I have is that sometimes they are too respectful, and avoid the really tough questions.

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I hope I can eventually get that mature of a mindset. I was starting to think that if this is more about two different interpretations, maybe it’d just be better to have a general discussion with more emphasis on understanding each other. But yeah I suppose that could lead to us missing out on that value.

This is a common misconception that many theists hold as it relates to atheism. Atheism isn’t a rebellion against theism. Atheism is skepticism at its roots, and theism has yet to present evidence to overcome that skepticism. If theists were able to bring forth strong evidence then atheists would gladly join them, including Shermer. Atheism isn’t an argument against theism, but a lack of a supported argument for theism.

It seems to me that creating the specter of “New Atheism” is an attempt to reinforce this misconception. Theists try to create the picture that New Atheists have all of the trappings of religion in order to create some sort of equivalency when the real situation is much different than that. The specter of New Atheism plays well to the choir, but it doesn’t really address the reality of what is really being argued, IMHO.

Culturally, the middle ground appears to be secularism and democracy. As Churchill stated, democracy is the worst kind of government, except for all the others. We landed on secularism and democracy because it appears to work the best. While both sides of the debate can argue ideology, we also need a pragmatic solution to the real problems we have today. The idea that the people have a voice in government and religion should remain in the personal sphere is the most pragmatic solution we have found. I tend to think of it in terms of sports. The rules of baseball are secular. They don’t require a belief in that god or this god. You don’t have to belong to a specific religion to play baseball. The rules of baseball are the same for all religions or no religion. We have decided that our laws should do the same because it seems to work.

I think the same applies to science. There are plenty of theists who are scientists, and they are great scientists. The rules of science are secular in the same way that the rules of baseball are secular. That isn’t to say that you can’t believe in God in order to do science, only that you are required to follow the rules of science, which are enshrined in the scientific method. That’s the idea that Shermer thinks is worth protecting and supporting, and I think that is also true of many theists.

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I love it! I think it is also attributed to Churchill that the most powerful argument against democracy as a form of government is 5 minutes of conversation with an average voter.

I also like your baseball analogy. While people of many different religions can enjoy the sport, still they have to have a set of ground rules in place that allow the game to be played. And I suggest that those rules (I don’t have specific ones in mind as I write this, but could probably think of examples as needed) precede the game itself and do not originate from within it. Your analogy is worth more thought.

So I still push back on your original thought that “Atheism is [pure] skepticism at its roots.” I see it more as a selective skepticism. We’ll probably continue to disagree about that.

Somewhere in the McGrath-Shermer talks (or Q&A afterword) Shermer made a comment about McGrath needing to get out of his “bubble”, and McGrath responded by asking if Shermer wasn’t in just another bubble. Shermer then said something like “well, this is the big bubble.” Reply from McGrath: “Oh? Which bubble is that?” At least the exchange went something like that to my recollection here.

But I thought that exchange illustrated something nicely. Each side wants to think they are in the larger domain of thought that surrounds, includes, and analyzes (objectively of course!) everybody else’s way of thinking. IOW, if we even admit we are in any bubble at all, we at least want to think it is our bubble that is the most encompassing. So it still intrigues me that atheists (some of you anyway) want very much to think that science alone is on the ground floor of all analysis and that all other claims must either have their root on that foundation or else be seen as having no valid footing at all. Some of us merely refuse to check our skepticism at the door when approached with conjectures like that.

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In my experience, atheists are pretty consistent when it comes to claims that lack evidence.[quote=“Mervin_Bitikofer, post:29, topic:36642”]
But I thought that exchange illustrated something nicely. Each side wants to think they are in the larger domain of thought that surrounds, includes, and analyzes (objectively of course!) everybody else’s way of thinking. IOW, if we even admit we are in any bubble at all, we at least want to think it is our bubble that is the most encompassing. So it still intrigues me that atheists (some of you anyway) want very much to think that science alone is on the ground floor of all analysis and that all other claims must either have their root on that foundation or else be seen as having no valid footing at all. Some of us merely refuse to check our skepticism at the door when approached with conjectures like that.
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Science is formalized skepticism, so science is going to track very closely to the type of skepticism that atheists have. At the end of the day, what atheists are asking for is independently verifiable evidence. You can call that science if you want, but that is where I see the debate centering at. If we were using a murder trial as an analogy, I doubt that you, as a juror, would accept supernatural revelation as valid evidence. If a witness said that Xenu from the Great Beyond told him that the defendant was guilty you would probably not accept that as a valid reason for finding the defendant guilty. However, you would accept forensic evidence.

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I posted a link to this in another thread, but a 2013 study of college students by the humanist group CFI turned up some interesting info regarding “emerging from an earlier season of theistic belief.” Students were first asked to identify themselves as Religious, Spiritual, or Secular. Of the 28% who identified as Secular, the study asked:

How do people become secular? We asked the students about family background and how they were raised. Almost half the Secular group (49 percent) reported that they had attended religious services at least monthly when young. Only 28 percent were raised in irreligious families and never attended services. So we can conclude that the great majority of the Secular group comprises the “deconverted.”

So, it isn’t just the “new atheists” who have come out of an earlier season of belief; it is more importantly a great number of young people who have lost faith. They aren’t in rebellion against their former beliefs. They simply drifted away and never returned. That, in my opinion, is a much greater reason for trepidation than “the specter of New Atheism,” as @T_aquaticus eloquently put it.

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@Mervin_Bitikofer

I think that you are right, the “two white guys telling everyone else how to think” is an important point behind the atheistic point of view.

Shermer at some level thinks that Christianity and atheism are part of Western civilization as is science. Today much of the rest of the world is rejecting science, lead by Islam. Atheism sees itself as protecting science and Western civilization by attacking “religion.” Thu8s he is a white guy telling other people what to think.

This of course is narrow thinking. When one is building a coalition to defend something, you try to build it on as broad base as possible. Christianity is broader that just the West. About half of Christians are non-White. If you want to build a way of life that supports the best of the West, the most rational way would be to develop a theology that supports the best of the West, rather than attacking theology and putting everyone else against you.

Shermer has claimed that if a person ceased to believe in God, this make no difference in his/her life. Maybe he means that nature is not changed by unbelief, but Life certainly is. I have found that belief in God means that life has real meaning and purpose, while nonbelief means that life has only subjective (artificial) meaning and purpose.

People want and need meaning and purpose in their lives. Indeed that is what truth is about. I really do not see how Shermer can say he is seeking truth while claiming that the Source of truth, meaning, and purpose does not exist.

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We need to be careful about trying to broadly “tar” atheists with that brush. Christianity has had the same kind of accusations leveled against it too (despite the fact that it, like atheism, transcends racial and national boundaries). But in any case, Shermer was right to redirect the focus back onto “what is true”.

Amen to that! Which is one of the things that makes the anti-theism wing of atheism seem so irrational to me.

[this is just a short drop-in for me now … hope to come back tonight, as other things above warrant more than a hasty response here too.]

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Atheists warmly welcome theists who also want to protect science, and there are plenty of them.[quote=“Relates, post:32, topic:36642”]
Shermer has claimed that if a person ceased to believe in God, this make no difference in his/her life. Maybe he means that nature is not changed by unbelief, but Life certainly is. I have found that belief in God means that life has real meaning and purpose, while nonbelief means that life has only subjective (artificial) meaning and purpose.
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Atheists have real meaning and purpose in their lives, such as their love of family and friends, their contributions to their community, and their various pursuits in life. I think what Shermer is saying is that this meaning and purpose exists for theists, and it continues to exist for atheists in many of the same forms.

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It was also a joke, making fun of the fact that what they were debating probably wouldn’t convince that many people since the people in the audience are capable of making up their own minds.

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As I understand it atheists say that God does not exist, because the “spiritual,” which includes love, meaning, and purpose does not exist. If atheists are saying that the “spiritual”- love, meaning, and purpose, that which is not physical- does exist, how can they say that God does not exit?

No, that’s multiply wrong. An atheist need not assert that “God does not exist”; many simply assert that they do not believe that gods exist. Regardless, I doubt that any atheist asserts that God does not exist based on whether the “spiritual” exists. And finally, one cannot credibly claim that “love, meaning, and purpose” are equal to or require the “spiritual.” That’s at best a corollary of spiritual/supernatural belief.

So, I don’t think you understand what atheists believe.

Well, that’s not what “atheists are saying,” nor is it even close. But even if it were, the rest of the sentence is a non sequitur.

Why would you say that one leads to the other here Relates? To simplify, what if we just look at love, say the love between me and my wife. It’s a reciprocal emotion which I am strongly aware of. Even given its non-physical nature, why would its existence lead to the conclusion that people have some definite knowledge of God?

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Stephen,
Thank you for your response.

Most atheists that I speak to say that there is no evidence for the existence of the supernatural. The supernatural is defined as that which is beyond the physical. Truth, love, meaning, and purpose are not physical and are beyond the natural, and thus supernatural. This is evidence that the spiritual exists and God exists, whether you agree or not.

If asserting that I believe that “gods” do not exist makes me an atheist, then I am an atheist, which I am not.

Those are both non sequiturs, and rather obvious ones. The equation of “not physical” with “thus supernatural” is false. So is your claim that the existence of “the spiritual” established the existence of “God.”

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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