Tag Archives: debate

What he said:

Penn Jillette on Piers Morgan’s show (watch the first 10 minutes):

Wow, go Penn!

I love this example of atheist/Christian dialogue.  I thought Penn hit the perfect tone — approachable and friendly, yet still able to openly disagree with Morgan.  It’s funny to see how flustered and angry Morgan gets as he tries to bait Penn in the various traps believers like to lay out for nonbelievers (ie., the arrogance of atheists, the beginnings of the universe, death, etc).

I’m going to watch this clip again — and I’ll be buying Penn’s book, too.

on personal experience

You know, there’s one question that I wish I could have asked Craig — but first, some background: One of Craig’s 5 or 6 arguments for God’s existence is the “personal experience” of God that a believer has.  In fancy theologian talk, he calls this the “self-authenticating power of the Holy Spirit” — ie., the Holy Spirit is true because the Holy Spirit tells me its true. (yes, very circular reasoning)

I wish I had asked Craig to explain how I had this Holy Spirit experience back when I was a believer, and yet later came to reject my faith.

I suppose it’s not a very nice question to ask, because I have a feeling his answer will make him look like a jerk.  My guess is that if I were to ask Dr. Craig my question, he would have to say that I was never a true believer in the first place — otherwise, I wouldn’t have rejected Christianity.  Either that or I must have committed some kind of huge sin that broke this connection I had with the Holy Spirit.

And he wouldn’t be the first person to say or imply that about my past.  I suppose it’s comforting to some people to just believe I was never a true Christian(TM), rather than face the reality that someone can go from being active in a loving relationship with a personal god to being in a place where she doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of a god.

At last week’s debate, there was a section on the audience response card where you could put your email address down to have someone from Campus Crusade for Christ contact you to have a conversation on how God is personal and able to be known and, if so, what that is like.  Being who I am (someone who loves dialoguing about belief), I filled out the box to be contacted.

Tonight I received a very eager email from a student who is offering to take me out to coffee to talk about these issues.  There’s a part of me that thinks it would be great fun to be on the receiving end of such a talk, and I wonder why.  Maybe it’s because, looking back, I wish I had a coffee discussion with an atheist who could kindly ask me questions about my faith that I never thought of before.

Don’t misread me, I’m not out on a deconverting mission here — but part of me wonders what good I can offer in not backing down from interacting with believers, even in my godless state.

grrrl meets apologist

me & William Lane Craig

Earlier this week I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored debate, “Does God Exist?” — featuring rock-star apologist William Lane Craig and fellow Saskatoon atheist George Williamson.  It was a rematch of an earlier debate they did in 2007 (YouTube).

In case you didn’t know this about me, I *love* listening to debates. It’s not at all uncommon to find me listening to a debate while I’m doing my housework (here’s the best site to find debates — I probably have 80% of them on my iPod).  I love listening to debaters set up their arguments, and love even more the spur-of-the-moment interactions between both sides during cross-examinations and Q & A periods.

The one Christian debater I’ve heard the most is Dr. Craig — I’ve heard him so many times that I can even cite all 6 of his arguments.  It was quite the treat to not only see him in person, but on Friday morning I had an opportunity to share a cup of coffee with him and fellow apologist Michael Horner! (along with a few other of my atheisty friends)

What I learned from my Craig encounter (in no particular order):

  • It was so fun to be able to talk about anything and everything with an articulate believer.  There haven’t been many opportunities where my questioning was welcomed.  There weren’t any heated discussions, just exchange of ideas.
  • Despite how smart he is, I think Dr. Craig is out of touch with many contemporary issues and their implications in the world today.  For example, he’s very quick to be dismissive of the “new atheism”, and labels it as only a “pop-culture” phenomenon.  I’m never impressed by a snobby scholar attitude (and don’t get me started on people who brandish their PhD diplomas).
  • The best part of our discussion was when we started talking about morality. I love talking about real, concrete issues — which means talking about moral/ethical dilemmas are more up my alley than discussing the ins and outs of cosmology.  Cosmology doesn’t affect me in my day to day life.
  • What I found the most interesting in our conversation about morality was noticing how uncomfortable Dr. Craig got when we starting applying morality to situations — he complained that his area was “meta-ethics” and not “practical ethics.”  This really shocked me, as I find practical ethics *so important*, and waaaaaay more meaningful to discuss than vaguely pontificating about loosely-defined “objective morality” and supposedly “cosmic” implications.  I asked Dr. Craig to give me an example of an objective moral value — I didn’t get one.
  • At one point, Dr. Craig was dismissively (he’s very good at being dismissive) talking about the ethical theory of consequentialism.  He gave an example that was meant to be horrifying to us to hear — he said, according to this theory, if raping/torturing a little girl would bring more good to society, then you would be morally bound to do such an atrocious action.  He wanted us to be repulsed by such an idea — and it is repulsive!  But I interjected that if Craig’s God were to issue a divine command for him to rape/torture a little girl because God deemed it morally “right,” Craig would have no choice but to follow it — according to the ethical guidelines that he’s under (read: Abraham’s command to sacrifice Issac).  And I find that equally repulsive, if not moreso that a supposedly personal God could make such commands.  Craig conceded (as much as he could — which is to say not much) — but he also made the point that it would be “logically impossible” for God to command such a thing. (?)
  • Ultimately it comes to Craig’s system of morality, I don’t trust God as much as he does.  I also don’t buy into Craig’s forced dichotomy of objective morality vs. nihilism.
  • Another interesting part of the conversation came up when we started talking about the character of God, especially as portrayed in the Old Testament.  Here’s where the theological contorting really starting taking shape.  First Craig tried to diminish the genocidal acts by saying that God really commanded the Israelites to “drive out” the Canaanite residents — and then only killed those left behind.  Later Craig mentioned that there’s no evidence that women and children were killed, and that it was mainly soldiers who were brutalized (not sure where he’s getting that claim from). And there were several other excuses given, but his main premise — God can take life, because he has given life — I found terrifying enough on its own ground.  (and again, here’s another example where Craig seems very willing to hand over his own volition/judgement over to God, something that I don’t think I’m able to do)
  • At one point in the conversation (I think it was in the midst of the ethical dilemmas), Michael Horner just sighed and said he didn’t know an answer to our questions.  AND I LOVED THAT.  I didn’t love it because I felt like I “scored” a point by stumping the apologist, but rather because it showed a moment of vulnerability and honesty.  As much as I enjoyed Dr. Craig, I didn’t see that side of him in our conversation.  The most he would concede would be to say “Well, I’ve struggled with that …” and then continue to give a definitive (to him) answer.
  • Toward the end of our chat, the apologists asked if there were any remaining “burning questions” left for us to ask — I, of course, took that segue way into asking about hell.  And that was when Dr. Craig told me that I should “come back into the faith.”
  • Dr Craig thinks that if you have a “open mind and open heart , you will come to a belief in god” — which is a really interesting statement to unpack.  This statement implies that someone who is skeptical of Christianity’s claims has a closed mind and heart.  My mind/heart isn’t closed,  I’m just not willing to assume God is there and then go looking for him, essentially turning off my critical faculties.  It reminds me when some  Mormons once asked Jerry and I to pray, just to “try it” and see if we felt god.  Ummmm, no thanks.
  • As much as I want to be impressed by Dr. Craig, I left our discussion thinking his faith rationale is pretty simple.  In many ways, I think it just boils down to an elaborately-structured ‘God of the Gaps’ argument, which is an explanation I’m not content to settle for.

Looking back on the whole experience, I’m really glad I had this opportunity to sit and chat with 2 prominent apologists.  I want to think that I’m always open to hearing good arguments that could persuade me to change my mind — but that said, even if I could be persuaded into conceding a deistic or theistic god exists, I’m not sure if I would be so apt to fall into line to worship him/her/it.

My hesitancy isn’t because I’m angry with god, or that I’m too selfish to let god into my life.  I just honestly don’t see how I need a relationship with such a being.  Maybe one day my mind will change — until that time, I’ll keep a lookout for him/her/it — but I won’t stop asking hard questions and I won’t settle for cliched answers.

p.s. In case you want a taste of what Dr. Craig sounds like in conversation, here’s a clip from his trip up here to Saskatoon.

p.p.s.  If you want to hear my favorite debates featuring Dr. Craig, check out these:

  • My very favorite: Craig v. Shelly Kagan, Yale prof.  The debate was “Is God Necessary for Morality?” — which means Craig was off-script!  And he loses the debate, I think.
  • If you want to hear Craig’s 6 proverbial arguments in action, you should listen to his debates with atheist Austin Dacey.  These two debates (2004 & 2005) are the best tackling of the subject, and Dacey offers the best opposition to Craig.
  • Later this spring, Craig is slated to debate both Lawrence Krauss (the physicist) and Sam Harris.

What he said:

I think the atheist dickhead phenomenon is about at this level of discussion right now. It’s no longer about God, it’s about “others.” It’s about the purity of your unbelief, measured not against any philosophical standard or line of argument but about finding religious believers septic and converting polite unbelievers to the more radical view that religion runs from noxious to poisonous, not from good to bad. It’s also about your solidarity with others who share your radical unbelief and how you measure the attitudes and intentions of other members of the tribe.

Of Atheist Tribes
R. Joseph Hoffman

Rationalizing Genocide

How did I spend my Sunday morning?  Writing out a long comment to a pastor who was attempting to defend the genocides of the Old Testament.  Here’s my response to his rationalizations:

Thanks for the time you took in writing out this response.  I can tell you put a lot of time and energy into it, and I would be open to reading a book you’d write on the topic!  I do have a few issues with some of your explanations.

But before I get too picky, can I just state the obvious?  Can you hear yourself defending (rationalizing!) acts of genocide?  I’m always dismayed when I hear someone mentally disconnect the argument they’re making from the act they’re defending.  To be honest, it was one of the primary motivating forces that helped me reject my faith.  I got tired of having to condone God’s go-ahead for genocide.

You say that applying our “cultural mores” onto the horrors of genocide is an “anachronism.”  I’m not sure what to make of that statement.  So genocide (ie., the systematic act of killing a racial/cultural group) is a value that is relative to the time one lives in?  I’m having a hard time imagining a period of time in human history when it would be excusable to slaughter an entire people group.

So proving to me that I’m being anachronistic is going to be a tough sell.  You’re going to have to show me that the moral precept we hold that genocide is wrong was somehow NOT wrong back then.  I have a feeling we’ll come back to the supposedly-moral framework of “God is moral, God told the Israelites to murder, Murder is moral.”  You may be content in such a framework, I am not.

I know that there are other examples of ancient literature where these acts of systematic murder are described, and I find those passages equally horrifying as well.  But the difference between reading the Illiad and reading the Bible is that people don’t put any spiritual credence in the former.

I’m disappointed that you describe genocide as simply “distasteful.”

To summarize your arguments rationalizing genocide:
1. Genocide was not as evil of an act back then as it is today, so applying our 21st-century standards to this act is “anachronistic”.
2. Other people groups back then were committing genocide, so the Israelites were just following warfare protocol.
3. The ends justify the means argument: wiping out Israel’s enemies may have been unfortunate, but necessary — akin to the violence necessary to resolve other human atrocities such as slavery, racism, and fascism.
4. God compromised morality on behalf of the Israelites, and allowed them to commit such acts.
5. Israel is God’s “covenant people”, so “to maintain their cultural and religious distinctiveness”, wiping out a few ancient near eastern cultures is completely excusable.
6. The Midianites were bad people in their day, so they had it coming to them.

I asked you specifically about  Numbers 31.  I find it telling that you completely avoided commenting on the another morally “distasteful” passage in that chapter. Not only does God condone genocide, but he also mandates rape.

The Israelites went and destroyed all the males of the Midianites, but brought back as captives the “women and the little ones” (verse 9).   Moses then specifically goes to the Israelite army and tells them to KILL all the “women who had known a man” along with all the male children — *BUT* they could keep all the young virgin girls for themselves (verses 17-18).  As the chapter closes, these (32,000!) young girls were counted — along with the livestock — in the list of Israel’s war “booty” (32-35).  I don’t think I’m being anachronistic in being horrified by such actions on the part of such a God, and such a “covenant” people.

As I close, I noticed you describe yourself as a “good historian” — have you watched the PBS documentary of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”?  This doc consults many historians, scholars, and archeologists who have the thesis that much of the OT as history is inaccurate.  The genocidal atrocities weren’t military coups, but more of a social/cultural revolution.

I’m curious how he’ll respond. I, for one, am feeling pretty sick inside after having to think about such atrocities. But, at the same time, I’m also glad I got out of the business of finding theological reasons to condone such cruelty.

In the meantime, it looks like Luke has posted a pretty comprehensive list of articles from theologians and non-believers who have responded to the OT genocides.  Check it out.

EDIT: I responded again, and here’s what I wrote: read more »

My kind of church

I spent my Sunday morning, in my pajamas, watching this debate:

(part 1 of 11)

Is There Meaning in Evil and Suffering?
Description: A panel discussion and debate on the meaning of evil and suffering from theists Dr. William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias, atheist Dr. Bernard Leikind (a plasma physicist and senior editor of Skeptic magazine), and Hindu Dr. Jitendra Mohanty (one of India’s most distinguished Hindu philosophers and professor at Emory University).

These are the kind of debates/discussions I enjoy the most — why waste time arguing over the existence of something unprovable, one way or another?  It’s far more interesting to talk about the problem of evil. These kinds of discussions confirm for me why I rejected Christianity.  In this debate, the explanations provided by Craig and Zacharias for the evils allowed (condoned?) by an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God fell FLAT.  It basically boils down to “trust God to work things out in the end,” which doesn’t answer the question (not to mention it’s unsatisfying).

One thing interesting to note when watching this debate (and it’s a trait I’ve noticed when talking with believers) is how quickly Zacharias and Craig divert themselves away from specific examples/questions of evil or morality and rush back to the generalized platitudes of their faith.  For example, in the debate above, when talking about absolute morality, at one point the naturalist asked the theists whether they thought divorce was immoral.  Faster than you could bat an eyelash, Zacharias diverted away from the question into generalizations.

And I suppose I can’t blame ‘em, because the rhetorical power in saying you have absolute objective morality lies in being able to make the statement without having to provide specific examples to back it up.

A final lesson learned from the above debate: I think Ravi Zacharias is far more of a jerk than William Lane Craig (and this is saying a lot, because I am *not* a fan of Craig’s snarky delivery).  In the debate, watch how Zacharias first responds to the naturalist (Dr. Leikind), and you’ll see why I award Zacharias the “asshole apologist” award.