The Instigator
Con (against)
0 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
3 Points

Does theism do any good?

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/3/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 896 times Debate No: 64419
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (5)
Votes (1)




I don't want to argue about whether god exists here; but, whether or not he does, we can surely measure the effect of belief that he does in this World.

There are a number of persistent myths that I would like to disabuse the World of, namely:

1. Myth: Religious people give more to charity. This is only true if you include donations to the churches to which they belong, for the purposes of building, preaching and proselytizing.

2. Myth: Religion comforts people. There is some evidence that those of a religious bent are happier than their atheist brothers and sisters... But evidence points to this being solely down to the infrastructure of a support network that meets up frequently and therefore cannot be counted as a benefit of belief itself.

3. Myth: Religion makes people behave more morally. There is no evidence to back up this claim. For instance, we can look at murder or rape rates in religious communities, states or countries and compare them to less religious counterparts... What we find is that religiosity is not correlated with more moral behaviour.

Side-track rant ("why it matters") I haven't yet seen any evidence that there's a God; I haven't yet seen any evidence that belief in God can do anybody any good. I have tons of evidence of monotheism causing harm such as intolerance, hindrance to science (think GM or stem cell research), disenfranchisement of women, prejudice against homosexuality, preaching against condoms and thus causing the spread of AIDS, etc.

To me, the debate about religion should be focused on the here and now. Arguing over the existence of a god for whom we have no evidence is a waste of time... I think that the focus should be on whether belief has any tangible benefits or harms associated with it. Unfortunately, like the death penalty's efficacy as a deterrent, most people's instinct here is wrong... Most people instinctively assume that having a death penalty would act as a deterrent but the fact is that it does not. Likewise, most people instinctively assume that religion is a comfort that makes people behave better but it is, when you look at it, just not the case.


Thanks for opening this debate, I'm looking forward to it.

As stated, this debate will not discuss whether God exists. Rather, it will measure the merits of a philosophy that assumes he does (theism).

Con is arguing that theism does no good. If I, as Pro, can show that theism does ANY good, even in the slightest way, then I have defeated Con's position.

I will first address each of Con's "myths."

1. Myth: Religious people give more to charity - perhaps it's true that theists do not give MORE to charity than others. But they certainly do give. Giving to charity, regardless of the amount, is still generally considered "good." So, if theism motivates people to give and help others, then it does good.

2. Myth: Religion comforts people - Con says that theism merely develops comforting social infrastructure. But if theism motivates people to build support networks, meet frequently, and fellowship together, then it is certainly a source of some good. Theism's message of eternal life, forgiveness, and meaning provides comfort to millions of people across the globe. I assume this is pretty common sense, but if Con wishes me to give specific examples in the next round I will.

3. Myth: Religion makes people behave more morally - Of course, religion does not make people perfect, so it's no surprise that "religious communities" still struggle with crime. In fact, many theist philosophies embrace the fact that people never can and never will be perfect. However, I don't believe that perfection is the measure of "good" that we're talking about here. There is little doubt that religion has a very strong power to modify human behavior (even if it's all a lie). There are innumerable examples of this, and I'd be happy to list a few in the next round if my opponent wishes.

I agree that religion can lead to many bad things, including the things Con listed (intolerance, prejudice, hindering science, etc...) But the argument here is that theism does NO good. Even in spite of the negatives, one can easily find some good as well. Theism is an extremely powerful motivator for helping the poor, volunteering, contributing to the community, loving others, etc....

I submit that Theism does some good.

Looking forward to Con's response.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for taking the debate up; I'm also looking forward to it!

I agree with Pro's assertion that to defeat my position Pro merely has to demonstrate a single good result of theism. I am fully aware that I have therefore bitten off a heck of a challenge, since there may be any number of things that I just haven't thought of - that being the case, I sincerely look forward to being shown the error of my admittedly hard-line position that I don't accept the claim that theism does any good at all.

On the other hand, I deliberately set the debate up so that Pro is on the Pro side and therefore owns a burden of proof. That is to say that whilst Pro only need show a single good result, I must insist that Pro demonstrates that result with some evidence. As I alluded to in my opening gambit, most people instinctively think that the death penalty would work as a deterrent... since our instincts on such matters are often wrong, it is important that we look to statistics to try to measure real-world effects.

Let me take Pro's response to my first "myth":
"perhaps it's true that theists do not give MORE to charity than others. But they certainly do give. Giving to charity, regardless of the amount, is still generally considered "good." So, if theism motivates people to give and help others, then it does good."

I agree wholeheartedly with the last statement: if theism motivates people to give and help others, then it does good. But I contend that if the theist does not on average give more than the atheist, then we can soundly conclude that theism provides no such motivation. I concede that this is counter-intuitive at first, but I believe that I have the statistics to back that up. I don't really want to get dry and technical and start citing studies but it sounds, from Pro's position, that I may not need to; if Pro accepts that theists don't give more to charity than atheists then Pro is not really claiming any good from theism... I never said that I don't think that theists do good things, I merely say that I don't think that theism makes people more likely to do good things. Many religious people will claim that their charitable donations are inspired by their faith... but since they give at about the same rate as others, this claim does not illuminate any answer to this debate.

Moving on to my second "myth": Pro takes two lines against my original assertion, I'll separate them into a) and b)
Myth 2): Religion comforts people
rejection a): It inspires people to form groups, which is in itself comforting
rejection b): The message of eternal life (i), forgiveness (ii) and meaning (iii) brings comfort

To a) I have to say that people naturally form tribal groups about things such as football, politics, religion, etc. Atheism is on the rise and is becoming more socially acceptable; as it does so, more structures and support mechanisms are arising. To see exactly how powerful the persecution of atheism by theists has been and still is, consider that people used to be tortured to death if they wouldn't recant their "errant" beliefs. Today we find in America, still, a population that when polled would rather see a philandering president than an atheist one. In the absence of theism, we would have atheist support networks of equal power to latter-day churches thus, I contend, like the first example with charitable donations, theism does not of itself offer any advantages.

Pro's rejection of b) contains three separate claims; to these I say:

i) The message of eternal life comes with a threat of eternal persecution. It inspires at least as much fear as it does comfort, even in the most earnest believer. It seems to me as being nothing more than a way to raise the stakes and give religions more power in this World. Furthermore, if we compare the theist's comfort to that of the atheist's, I can only tell you how comforted I am to have come completely to terms with the concept of my not existing one day. In fact, given the choice, I'd really rather not be immortal, if that's all the same with the universe! I think that being at eternal peace is not really a negative thing, although quite hard to actually imagine.

ii) the message of forgiveness is frankly one of the more pernicious beliefs inherent in monotheistic faiths. If you had a debt of money, I could pay it for you; if you had done a crime I might be able to find a devious way to do your jail-time for you; but it is singularly immoral to think that I or anybody else (deity or not) can absolve you of your responsibility and associated guilt. The doctrine of vicarious redemption is morally corrupt and does no good. Whilst on the subject of forgiveness, though, I'd point out that the vast majority of things that we seem to need forgiveness from in a theistic world-view are the actions of Adam and Eve (original sin), any doubt we might have in an imaginary friend and an obsession with the idea that our own sexual predilections may constitute a sin. I suggest that theisms claim to offer forgiveness whilst actually inspiring fear and guilt in the believers. I mean, cigarettes calm smokers down... but in the large part, that's because they are stressed that they haven't got nicotine in their blood at the time... so, overall, you'd be far less stressed as a non-smoker. Likewise, if theism is causing worry and stress about having committed sin and then promising a solution to the problem that it creates in the first place then we should reject it in totum as soundly as we reject smoking.

iii) Meaning. The contention put before us is that theism offers us meaning and, via that mechanism, comfort. I'd like to see some explanation or justification of that, but for the moment let me say this: Accepting that there is a god does not inherently give you meaning; whatever meaning you find within that context would generally be via scriptures, preachers or, I suppose, "soul-searching". In the case of scriptures and preachers, you are ceding your purpose to other people which cannot be said to be good in any real sense, and in the case of soul-searching, you are not doing anything that it is not possible to do equally well as an atheist... therefore, again, theism offers no benefit here.

Finally, to myth 3, Pro contends that "There is little doubt that religion has a very strong power to modify human behavior (even if it's all a lie). There are innumerable examples of this, and I'd be happy to list a few in the next round if my opponent wishes.". Okay, I'm listening; I do wish; I mean, I do agree that religion does affect human behaviour... and I can think of countless ways that it does modify human behaviour in definitely negative, damaging ways... I await hearing evidence of a way that theism has positively modified human behaviour.

It strikes me that Pro is not adding anything in the final statement:

"Theism is an extremely powerful motivator for helping the poor, volunteering, contributing to the community, loving others, etc...."

Hopefully we can get to the bottom of these things as part of the myth-busting exercise we've already started, but since they're here repeated, I'll briefly repeat my rejection:

All of those claims are made by theism and none are ever backed up with evidence. It's frustrating that you can accept that theism can cause intolerance and prejudice and in another breath claim that it promotes loving others. I would simply say that it claims to promote loving others but in fact promotes prejudice and intolerance.

The pursuit of loving all other people and being compassionate is not one that theism has a monopoly on, by the way; indeed, I try to practice compassion on a daily basis... I think that most people do; theism (quite dishonestly, in my opinion) claims these benefits whilst not delivering any meaningful advantage and therefore being completely incapable of supporting its own claims about its own benefits.

I submit that I have still not seen any evidence of theism doing good.

I think, perhaps, I should clarify one point here. If we were talking about bicycles speeding us up or not, my pointing out that cars go faster would not show that bikes do not do some good, although _if_ I could show that walking was faster then I might have a point... so, equally, I can't expect anybody to accept me saying "but theism does no better than Buddhism" in the context of this argument... but I do expect Pro to accept "but theism does no better than atheism" as a fair rejection of any claim that is made. This is because logically all that atheism is is the absence of theism. Surely I am allowed to say "you can't claim X as a benefit of theism if X exists (or some natural analogue of it) in the absence of theism"?


Thanks for the quick response.

Throughout Round 2, my opponent changes their initial claim in several ways. This is called "Shifting the Goalposts." Let me explain:

The title of the debate is a question - "does theism do any good?" Con takes the negative answer - "no, theism does no good." So, my natural counter is to show that theism can do some good... even if it's a very small amount.

Con admits to assuming "a heck of a challenge" by denying that theism does any good whatsoever. Yet they try to dilute that challenge by altering the nature of their claim. Throughout Round 2, Con transforms their position several times:
1. "I merely say that I don't think that theism makes people more likely to do good things"
2. "theism does not itself offer any advantages"
3. "theism offers no benefit" (in relation to finding meaning)
4. theism does not have a monopoly on compassion or loving others (paraphrase)

These statements suggest that Con believes I must show how theism is better at producing good or more likely to do so than other philosophies. This is not the original claim however. I accept the burden of proof as Pro, and that burden is to show that theism does good - some good, any good, regardless of its relative value or probability. "Good" is not a zero-sum or mutually exclusive quality - theism does not need a "monopoly" or "advantage" to produce it.

Now that I hope I've clarified the positions of each side, I will proceed with rebuttals.

== Rebuttals ==

Con says that if a theist gives about the same as an atheist, then theism does not motivate people to give. How can this be? A motivation is a motivation, regardless of its truth or merit. If theism caused people to give more, then we might say that theism is a more POWERFUL or BETTER or more EFFECTIVE motivation, but those are adjectives, not nouns. If theism causes people to give equally, it loses those adjectives but it's still a motivation - it's a philosophy that convinces someone to do something.

Evidence: Devout Christians believe their faith calls them to serve others. The mission of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas includes the following statement: "Service can and should be pursued in various ways by all recipients of varied grace. Those who have been impacted by the gospel have countless opportunities"both formal and informal"to serve others by greeting at the doors of the church, volunteering in one of our Next Generation ministries, teaching, singing, serving communion, giving financially to the needs of others, opening their homes to their neighbors, etc." [1]

In Islam, giving to the poor is a central tenant of the faith. The pillar of "zakat" (giving to the poor) is one of "the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam." [2] Those who believe in Islam are clearly motivated by their Faith's requirements to give to charity.

Next, Con says that theism offers no advantages to forming support groups and that atheism can form support networks too. No disagreement there - all that statement means is that theism and atheism create support networks equally well. Since good is not zero-sum, that means theism and atheism can both create good in this area. This validates my position.

My opponent says they are perfectly comforted by the idea of mortality. However, that's just their personal opinion and it's not really an argument. Many people take comfort from the belief that they will see dead loved ones again one day. Con says belief in eternal life and forgiveness comes exclusively from "fear and guilt." While I believe this is wildly false, it has no relevance to this debate. As long as good (comfort) is the net result, my position stands.

Pro asks me to give an example of theism transforming human behavior for good. Very well, consider the life of Steve Upshur. At a young age, Mr. Upshur became an alcoholic drug dealer and soon found himself in prison. After adopting theism, he instantly turned his life around and stopped his destructive behavior. He is now a community leader who helps ex-convicts and the homeless because of his faith. [3] There are countless examples of theist-based behavior modification like this. I find it a little hard to believe that my opponent seriously thinks theism has never and can never motivate someone to improve their life. Even so, this one example is all that's needed to debunk that claim.

Finally, Con suggests that theism cannot, at times, produce both good and bad effects (prejudice vs. loving others). Yet, almost everything can produce good and bad results in different situations. Patriotism, for example, can be a very good thing, but it can also at times promote militarism and hate. Same with pain - sometimes pain is obviously bad, but sometimes pain can mean something good, like muscle soreness after a good workout. I fail to see how theism is any different. Just because it produces some bad results doesn't automatically exclude it from producing some good as well.

I submit that I've more than demonstrated some small good that comes from theism. Looking forward to the next round.

As a side note.... my opponent makes several claims involving things like American opinion poll results. I would kindly ask Con to cite their sources on such information in the future, lest we dismiss it as mere hearsay.

Debate Round No. 2


Thanks for that round.

I shall dedicate this round to making just one point. I feel aggrieved that I should have to make it, but here goes...

Pro says:
"Con believes I must show how theism is better at producing good or more likely to do so than other philosophies"

No, no, no I do not. I believe that you must show how theism is better at producing good than atheism, which is not another philosophy but merely a rejection (or ignorance) of the claims of theism.

Let's put this another way, just to make it clear. Atheism is simply a non-acceptance of any god claims. Whilst many religions claim adherents from the moment of birth, atheism has a more robust claim on babies! That is to say, most rational people would accept that babies do not believe in gods. Admittedly, there are theists who claim that babies know god from birth (just one amongst many unfounded claims that theism tends to entail)... but if Pro wishes to justify this point then I will insist on evidence. To prove that babies know the heart of god, or some other such lunacy, you would first have to demonstrate a god. I'm happy if Pro wants to try to go there, since it's an impossible task... but if Pro does not want to go there then I hope that Pro will, in good faith, allow me the concession that babies are atheists.

Now, if babies are atheists and at some point in their lives are confronted with a god claim, they may reasonably ask "does your god claim have any evidence?". Surely we all know where that goes... but they may also ask, when considering for themselves whether to accept the god claim or not, "ok, well, true or not, will your theistic philosophy do any good to me or the World?". This, I put it to you, is exactly equivalent to the question of this debate.

Since atheism is the "default position", both in logical argument and in the reality of any human's life story, to answer the question of whether theism does any good, we absolutely have to compare it to the default position. This is not me deceptively trying to force Pro into having to make unreasonable comparisons to other philosophies. This is just common sense.

Let's look at a claim that's less emotive than theism to illustrate the point:

I might make a claim to you that fairies live at the bottom of my garden. You might, reasonably, ask for some evidence. I might be unable to provide you any evidence but I might then slip into defences such as "well, believing in fairies makes me happy". I might then follow it up with a suggestion that you, too, should believe in fairies, because doing so will make you happy... "there are lots of believers", I might say, "and they are all happy"... at this point, you might reasonably ask for evidence that "fairyism makes people happy"... if I were trying to justify "fairyism does some good" and showed you that fairyists have been known to give to charity, you would rightly laugh me out of town... you would simply point out that afairyists also give to charity and that unless I could demonstrate that fairyists gave more than afairyists then giving to charity was a property of human beings, not unique to fairyists, thus invalidating my point.

Indeed, if I started making claims such as "fairyists are good people", "fairyists are happy people", "fairyists give to charity", the correct response is the following paragraph:

I do not deny that fairyists are good, happy and charitable. However, for me to accept the claim that fairyism does any good, the onus is on you to demonstrate clearly that fairyists are better than non-fairyists, fairyists are happier than non-fairyists and that fairyists are more charitable than non-fairyists.

It may be that there was a country full of fairyists and, next door to it, a country full of non-fairyists. In this case, we could start to test some of the assertions... we could start to see that the country full of fairyists did not murder less than their afairyist neighbours... we could see that fairyists were not happier than their afairyist neighbours... we could see that fairyists were not more charitable than their afairiest neighbours (in fact, since they gave 5% of their income to rather expensive "fairy dust" to feed their fairies, they gave slightly less to charity). Thus any rational person would not make the bold claim "fairyism does no good"... but, on the other hand, they may reasonably state "I have not, thus far, seen any evidence that fairyism is true, nor that it does any good".

That is exactly the position which I find myself in with regards to theism. I accept that theists are good people, happy people and generous people. Pro cannot, in any meaningful sense, claim to have won this debate by proving any of those things. Fairyists are good people, happy people and generous people... but that does not justify that fairyism does any good. To show that fairyism does any good, you would have to show that believing in fairies makes people better, happier or more generous... to do this, you absolutely have to compare the fairyist to the rest of humanity... certainly, you don't have to prove that fairyism is better than theism, or that fairyism is better than Buddhism... but what you DO HAVE TO PROVE is that fairyism is superior to non-fairyism...

Thus, Pro, the onus is certainly on you to prove that theism does some good as opposed to its absence. Showing that theists give SOME money to charity proves no more than saying that "theists breath easily"... breathing easily and giving to charity are both fundamental qualities of human beings. Being good, kind, generous, helpful, not murdering, happy people is what the human race is all about... with or without mystical mumbo jumbo. I agreed at the outset of this debate not to tackle whether theism was mumbo jumbo; but what has happened is simply that you are pointing to good things about humans and falsely ascribing those benefits to a set of beliefs that they might have. This is dishonest... this is claiming the good of humanity in the name of your pet theory... this debases and insults the human condition.

So, I've wasted a whole round on one trivial point that I feel like I shouldn't really have had to make, certainly not to labour.

Please, please, think about this hard before you reply. Theists sleep for an average of eight hours. Does this show that theism helps you sleep? The only way we can test this claim is to look and see how long atheists sleep. It turns out that atheists sleep for an average of eight hours too... thus we conclude that theism has no measurable effect on sleep. Likewise, if theists give 5% of their income to charity, does that show that theism encourages you do donate? The only way we can test this claim is to look and see how much atheists donate... if atheists also donate 5% then this leads us to conclude that theism has no measurable effect on charitable donations. I.E. IT DOES NO MEASURABLE GOOD.

Pro has, up until this point, shirked their responsibility to demonstrate a measurable benefit of theism. I beseech you, Pro, focus your energies on JUST ONE POINT, since that is all that is required for you to win this debate. If you think that theism makes people more moral, go find some statistics on rape, murder, theft or teenage pregnancy in communities of various religiosity. If you think that theism makes people happier, go find some statistics to justify that (although that's a hard one to measure and has complications such as group bonding, as earlier discussed)... if you think that theism makes people more generous, go find some statistics about charitable donations. If you have some other point which you think constitutes the strongest, most obvious, or most measurable aspect of the benefit of theism as you see it, go, find me some evidence and win the debate!

Now, with what's left of my words for this round, to your rebuttal:

"If theism causes people to give equally, it loses those adjectives but it's still a motivation - it's a philosophy that convinces someone to do something"

No. Not so. That's as lame an argument as saying that theism helps you breath as effectively as atheism helps you breath. I can't (nor do I need to) prove that you are wrong in your assertion... I merely need to point out that you have not demonstrated your assertion. I contend that there is an innate goodness evolved into humanity through the process of group selection which motivates people to do good things like give to charity. Pernicious belief systems disingenuously claim ownership of this innate goodness, trying to convince the believer that they are not naturally good but that they need crutches, such as said belief system... thus we have plenty of evidence of adherents to faiths claiming that they are motivated to give because of their belief systems... but, in reality, all that's happening is that their belief systems are corrupting their minds and lowering their self-value... the belief system has so clouded their self-image that they believe that they are only good because of their faith. This makes me want to cry. Literally. It's so sad... it's just like the theist claiming that it is by the grace of their theism that they can breathe... all that it represents is their total subjugation to a philosophy that cannot be demonstrated to be either true or good. The ball, my worthy opponent, is in your court.


As respectfully as I can say this..... my opponent has now shifted the goalposts so far that they are standing on a different football field. I don't want to harp on this point, but I feel I must for clarification purposes.

Con now claims I "must show how theism is better at producing good than atheism." I would like to direct attention to the debate's title (the premise) and Con's Round 1 entry (explanation of the premise). Is this phrase found anywhere in either location? No.

Con challenges me to address numerous irrelevant tangents, including: demonstrate that babies are not atheists, demonstrate the existence of god, show how faryists (theists) are better than non-faryists (non-theists), prove that fairyism (theism) is superior to non-fairyism (non-theism), human nature is innately good, etc.... While all these topics are interesting, they belong in separate debates. They have little if anything to do with this debate topic.

Con also submits a fatal contradiction. In Round 2, my opponent says "I don't accept the claim that theism does any good at all." Yet, in Round 3 they said, "I accept that theists are good people, happy people, and generous people." How are these two statements compatible? Assuming that goodness, happiness, and generosity are good things, and assuming that a sincere belief in theism causes these feelings in certain people (ex., Steve Upshur), then how exactly does theism not do good?

== Rebuttals ==

My opponent bases their entire argument on the assumption that humans are basically good by nature. As a result, theism offers no good because it merely exposes what all humans already instinctively possess. The problem with that argument is it must assume humans are intrinsically good. This is not only unproveable, but it's the topic of a whole separate debate.

Con continues to argue that theism cannot produce good unless it produces MORE or BETTER good than atheism. This is simply untrue. Consider this example: Let's pretend the debate title is "do blankets provide warmth?" My opponent, in this case, would argue that humans are by nature warm and that there is evidence to suggest fire provides more heat than blankets. Unless I can show that blankets provide more warmth than fire, I lose. Does this make any sense? No. The correct answer is: both blankets and fire can provide warmth in certain ways.

Finally, Con equates theistic motivation for good to breathing or sleeping. This is a false analogy fallacy - Not only does it assume that doing good is as natural as breathing or sleeping (unproven), but breathing and sleeping are physical things our bodies automatically do to survive. Nothing really "motivates" people to breathe or sleep - our bodies will eventually fall asleep even if we try to stay awake. Conversely, people do not automatically and subconsciously do good. Motivation and inspiration is required for that, and I submit that theism can and does provide that for some people.

== Arguments ==

Con did not offer rebuttals to my examples of motivated giving from the Dallas church or Islam. Con also did not offer rebuttals to the behavior modification example of Steve Upshur (a simple google search will yield thousands of such examples). So, we must assume they stand as valid.

I think Mr. Upshur (and the thousands like him) is pretty strong evidence. He believes he had a religious experience, and as a result he instantly and dramatically changed his life. This change was exclusively motivated by his embrace of theism. In Mr. Upshur's life, theism produced good.

To conclude, I return again to the debate title. Is the title "Theism produces more good than atheism?" No. Is it "Theism is superior to atheism?" No. Is it "Humanity is basically good?" No. How about "Babies are born atheists?" Nope. It is simply "Does theism do any good?" The evidence says yes - it does some good, in certain people's lives, sometimes.
Debate Round No. 3


If we take the hypothesis "blankets make people warm", how would we go about testing that? It is but common sense to see that we would do an experiment in which we compared somebody with a blanket to somebody without a blanket; if the person with a blanket was warmer than the person without a blanket then we would conclude that "blankets make people warm".

In exactly the same way, if we take the hypothesis "the comfort blanket of theism makes people generous", we must compare somebody with that blanket and somebody without that blanket... if we see that somebody with the comfort blanket of theism is, indeed, more generous than the person without said comfort blanket then we can reasonably assume that the theism blanket causes generousness. However (as is the actual case) if we find that those with said comfort blanket are not measurably more generous than those without it then it is absolutely reasonable to conclude that theism does not produce generousness, despite the claims of its adherents.

It turns out that there is a simple English word to describe people who do not nuzzle the comfort blanket of theism: atheists. Atheism is not "an alternate philosophy", as my opponent seems to think; atheism is merely the absence of theism. Everybody reading this is presumably atheistic in regards to Zeus, Ra and Mictlantecuhtli; indeed, most people are atheistic to most specific gods. Atheists merely take that idea one further than monotheists.

Consider this analogy (Pro, don't pretend that I now want you to disprove the loch ness monster!): if we call people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster "Nessyists" and those who do not believe in the Loch Ness Monster "Anessyists", we can see that whilst Nessyism is a positive position, Anessyism is not. Anessyism does not define a person in any way (other than simply to say that they lack the peculiar trait of Nessyism). You, gentle reader, are almost certainly an Anessyist but you probably weren't even aware that you were... to be an Anessyist requires no thought, no devotion, no belief, no work, nothing... also, note, please... this is VERY important... to be an Anessyist, you do not need to say "I believe that there is no such thing as the Loch Ness Monster"... that's a positive claim that might make you an Anti-nessyist... to be an Anessyist, all you need to do is say "I don't believe in the Loch Ness Monster"... this is not a positive claim, it's simply a rejection of a claim... you may also say "I haven't seen enough credible evidence to justify belief in Nessy".

In fact, if I ask you "do you think that Nessy exists?" and you answer "I'm not sure", this puts you firmly in the Anessyist camp... an atheist is simply somebody who is not absolutely certain that there's a big all-knowing sky-daddy.

No matter how much my opponent wriggles, they must demonstrate that theism produces a good effect. To show that theism produces a good effect, the only way is to compare a theist to an atheist... if we find that they are essentially the same in terms of happiness, morality and generosity then we seem to be very clearly in a position where theism is not producing any measurable positive effect. I am not asking my opponent to compare theists to, say, antitheists (those who would assert that there are no gods)... I am simply asking my opponent to compare those with theism to those without theism. That is not just reasonable, it's common sense.

I say it one more time, in capitals, surrounded by asterisks, because it's really, really important and my opponent is trying desperately to wriggle free from it... if you only hear one of my arguments, hear this one:


Now, Pro has singularly failed to jump that simple hurdle so far. I wait with baited breath to see if Pro can find any evidence that people with theism outperform people without theism in any meaningful sense; either morally, psychologically or charitably... for these are the claims of theism, the untruths which I wish to expose. If you are on the edge of deciding whether to become a theist and a theist makes the argument that theism will make you a better person, ask them to provide evidence that theists are better people than atheists and you'll find that they can't... at which point you realise that the claim that "adopting theism would make you a better person" is a deception. THEISM WILL NOT MAKE YOU HAPPIER. THEISM WILL NOT MAKE YOU MORE MORAL. THEISM WILL NOT MAKE YOU MORE GENEROUS. You are already happy, moral and generous... please, don't let some false philosophy claim your goodness as its own!

It's difficult debating Pro because they will not, it seems, accept the reasonable request to measure any claimed theistic good against a baseline. That may be dishonest but even if it's a genuine mistake, it is that: a mistake. Pro will therefore, I feel confident, hate my rebuttal of Steve Upshur's claim that "God saved my life":

Did theism benefit Steve Upshur? Steve Upshur is personally convinced that God did; Pro is, apparently, equally sure that theism did; but I remain unconvinced of either claim. Allow me to explain:

There are countless examples of people who have suffered traumatic experiences who have been driven to help others going through similar things. There are drug addicts who have got free and now are driven to help other addicts kick the habit... there are torture victims who have escaped death and are now driven to help other torture victims... there are ex-self-harmers who are now driven to help current self-harmers... there are ex-cons who strive tirelessly to support others coming out of prison...there are women who drank during pregnancy and thus mentally crippled their own children who now are driven to prevent other women doing the same thing... you name a traumatic experience that a human being could experience and you will find people who have been through it and are now completely driven to help others in a similar situation.

Many people find real meaning and direction for the first time in their lives when they finally escape a trauma and decide to help other people who are suffering what they once suffered. This is a very common phenomenon. Just have a look at this Google search to see countless examples of people who, like Steve Upshur, were once drug addicts and now tirelessly strive to help others escape that menace:

Since Pro has chosen a poster-boy for theism helping an individual, I hope you'll allow me my poster boy: Indrajit Deshmukh.

The parallels are very real:

Indrajit Deshmukh and Steve Upshur were both once serious addicts; both were criminal; both seemed destined to the dustbin of life; both got support; both got clean; both found purpose and meaning in helping others; both strive tirelessly to this day to help others.

There are two aspects, I suspect, that Pro would claim as examples of theism doing good in Steve's case: the good of getting Steve off the drugs and the good that Steve now does getting others off drugs in the name of Jesus. Both come down to this question:

Q Are theistic approaches to getting addicts out of addiction more successful than non-theistic ones?

Pro, can you show that they are or are you just going to keep denying that the title of the debate implies you must?

I suggest that if Steve Upshur had bumped into a different support network, more like that which Indrajit Deshmukh did, he would have been cured as quickly (if not quicker), would have also gone on to help others like himself as effectively (if not more effectively) and, as a bonus, wouldn't waste any time on an ancient philosophy that cannot be shown to be beneficial any more than it can be shown to be true. Steve Upshur would, I suggest, be at least as well off now in a World without theism.

The trouble as I see it is that theism has got intertwined into a situation where it has no place. Addicts get clean and then help other addicts all the time... this is normal service... this is the default... this happens with or without any theistic mumbo-jumbo... it's just that when the help to get off drugs is offered by a theist in the name of some deity then the poor drug-user-come-ex-drug-user also becomes a theist and attributes the recovery TO THE WRONG THING... this is a DELLUSION. Worse, this newly converted Jesus-addicted over-zealous missionary, utterly convinced that Jesus helped them kick drugs, goes off preaching to drug users at the same time as trying to help them kick the habit, thus diluting the help that they might otherwise have been empowered to give if they had taken, say, Indrajit Deshmukh's path!

Just because Steve attributes his healing, quite wrongly, to Jesus, does not mean that we should believe him, or take his case as proof that belief in god does good... if we look to statistics we can see that belief in Jesus (belief in Jesus is, according to the bible, sufficient to get magic effects) is not correlated to kicking drug habits... there is no magic Jesus effect... none... so, we can safely conclude the following:

Whatever did cure Steve Upshur of his addiction, it was not Jesus!

Pro, where do you stand on this: Do YOU think that Jesus saved Steve?

Or are you just claiming that his faith that Jesus healed him is somehow beneficial? Can you show that Steve wouldn't have actually been better off going the path of Indrajit? Can you PROVE that?

If Steve was actually healed by non-Jesus methods, how is the delusion that the healing was Jesus-based help here, precisely?


I thank Con for the response.

At this point, my opponent and I must agree to disagree about the interpretation of the premise. I will leave it to the voters to decide which interpretation is correct.

I am not trying to be unreasonable, nor am I trying to "wriggle" out of anything. I simply believe that my opponent's new claim of "theism will not make you happier" is fundamentally different than the original premise "does theism do any good?" The first claim is quantitative, the second is qualitative. I am going to stick to the qualitative claim.

My main reason for this is that "good" (assuming there is such a thing as "good") is a quality that exists on a spectrum. There are very good things and slightly good things, but they are all still considered "good" regardless of their quantifier. This is why Con's belief that something cannot "do good" unless it surpasses a baseline of good is flawed. We don't think of other qualities in this way - consider the following example:

Two boys, Joe and Jim, like to lift weights. They both follow different workout routines and after 6 months Joe is very strong while Jim is only slightly stronger. Can we say that Jim's routine did not produce strength? No, Joe's may have produced more strength, but that is only a statement of QUANTITY. In terms of QUALITY, they both got stronger.

I understand my opponent's perspective, but I believe it's flawed because it assumes that human nature is intrinsically good. Using this line of reasoning, Con would rebut the weight lifting example by saying that Jim would have become equally strong by doing nothing because his body is naturally strong. Therefore, lifting the weights did not contribute to his improvement. But Con cannot prove that humans are naturally good, and therefore cannot support their claim that theism only exposes natural human behavior.

== Rebuttals ==

My opponent offers Indrajit Deshmukh as an example of someone who improved their life without theism. That's a great example, and I don't disagree with it at all. All it simply proves is that other methods besides theism can also produce good - but since good is not zero-sum, it doesn't mean theism cannot produce good as well. As an illustration:

One man uses an axe to split logs while another man uses a mechanical log splitter. Does the log machine mean that an axe cannot chop wood? Of course not - they both achieve the same result and are both considered "log splitting devices." It doesn't matter if one is more efficient or better than the other, they both produce split logs. Similarly, the fact that atheism can produce good does not mean theism cannot produce it too.

Con attempts to dismiss my Steve Upshur example by suggesting he "probably" would have recovered without theism. This is a logical fallacy called "Appeal to Probability." We have no evidence or reason to indicate that he would have recovered on his own. It doesn't matter if other approaches of ending addiction are more successful or faster (although, it's hard to imagine seeing results any faster than immediately, as was the case with Mr. Upshur), if an embrace of theism caused Mr. Upshur to recover, then theism caused good in his life.

I would like to submit that Con is flirting with Ad Hominem and Straw Manning by suggesting I must apparently believe in a "magic Jesus effect" and painting religion as a ridiculous delusion of "mumbo-jumbo" full of "over-zealous" missionaries who attribute their lives "to the wrong thing." I have given no indication of my personal beliefs (or lack thereof) so my opponent's assumptions are unfounded.

In regards to Straw Manning, Con said in Round 1 that they do not wish to argue whether god exists, yet calling religion "delusional" and "obviously wrong" requires me to do just that. Such statements dare me to explain why religion is not ridiculous and delusional, which is beyond the scope of this debate.

Finally - the blanket experiment. Con asks me to test the experiment, so here it is: Yes, if you give someone a blanket, they get warmer. If we equate "warmth" to "good," then Steve Upshur is our test subject. Before embracing theism, Mr. Upshur was a "cold" drug abusing criminal. After embracing theism, his goodness (warmth) increased dramatically. Post blanket Steve Upshur is a warmer person than pre blanket Steve Upshur. Yes, he could also have made a fire to get warm, but that does not exclude the fact that the blanket helped him as well. Either way, there's no reason to believe Mr. Upshur would have got warm all by himself.

I'll finish by summing up my arguments so far, because I don't believe Con has really refuted them. Con challenges me to measure any theistic good whatsoever. I believe I have -

Theists give to the poor because their beliefs in god motivate them to do so. Generosity is good. Theism can inspire generosity.

Theists sometimes alter their behavior in accordance with their beliefs in divine morality. Morality is good. Theism can and has inspired moral lifestyle changes.

Theists find peace, comfort, and meaning from their belief in god. Comfort is good. Theism can provide it.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times - just because atheism can also produce these things does not mean theism produces no good at all. It means BOTH atheism and theism can produce good.
Debate Round No. 4


Maybe Pro and I will continue to disagree on the implication of the title; the voting will reflect how others see the issue. I hope, gentle reader, to persuade you where I have failed to persuade Pro!

Pro has failed to show that theism results in an improvement over a lack of theism; Pro does not disagree with me here: Pro does not consider it necessary to show that theism results in an improvement over a lack of theism. Therefore, it seems to me, if I can persuade the reader that "theism does good" implies that "theism is better than no theism" then I appear to have won the debate.

Pro tries to shift the burden of proof when they suggest that I must demonstrate that humans are fundamentally decent at heart. It is not necessary for me to prove this; I do believe that it is true and relatively easy to demonstrate, but it isn't necessary for my argument to stand... to the contrary, in fact: it would be necessary for Pro to prove that humans are NOT fundamentally decent in order to claim that theism causes the goodness that we actually observe in the faithful... even then, to be convincing, Pro would also have to show how atheism simultaneously causes a coincidentally identical level of goodness that we actually observe in the infidels (since Pro seems to accept that infidels behave as well as the faithful)... this would be a hard thing to prove because atheism is simply a lack of belief... how could a lack of belief possibly cause good? The question you must ask yourself is more critical than that, in fact: "how could a lack of belief possibly cause exactly as much good as Pro is suggesting that belief causes"?

I offer one final analogy to explain why it is so important to compare to a baseline; consider the following conversation that you might have with a stranger possessing a large blue cloak and a pointy hat:

I have a magic wand. My magic wand works incredible wonders! You just won't believe how awesome my magic wand is... come, sit on this chair and let me wave my magic wand three times, pronounce the magic word "abracadabra" and tap you on the head. It'll only cost you a dime. Sorry, what was that? "Why should I?", you ask? Well, I have waved my magic wand over hundreds of people and you wouldn't believe the awesome effects that it has had on them!

Now, let's assume that you haven't run away or called the authorities to replace the man's cloak with a nice white jacket... if you agree to take his claim seriously, how would YOU test the assertion that his magic wand does any good? I suggest that you would want to see evidence that wanded people were measurably different from unwanded people! I suggest that you would ignore the ten stooges that he produced who told you "he waved the wand over me and since then my life has been transformed"... their personal testimony would not constitute evidence, since the stooges may either be deluded, paid, hypnotized or have a vested interest in supporting the wand theory. It is simply common sense that you want to see hard evidence that wanded people behave differently (in a positive way) from unwanded people. Pro is asking you to accept the equivalent of the argument that wanded people do good things, so wanding does SOME good. This is a deception, a distortion of logical reasoning and a completely indefensible stance. Please, gentle reader, do not be fooled in this way!

If Pro is to present a credible claim that theism does any good, they would HAVE to show that theism causes a positive effect that is not seen in the absence of theism. Pro does not claim to do this, but asks you to believe that a number of things that are seen with or without theism are, when theism is present, theism's doing and that those self-same effects, when theism is not present, are the doing of a lack of theism. I put it to you that this is sheer lunacy.

All I can think is that Pro does not understand that "atheism" means "absence of theism"... otherwise, they would recognise the sheer lunacy implicit in the following quote, in which I have replaced Pro's word "atheism" with the phrase {absence of theism}:

"If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times - just because {absence of theism} can also produce these things does not mean theism produces no good at all. It means BOTH {absence of theism} and theism can produce good."

Seriously, Pro? You think that {absence of theism} can produce good? That is what you seem to be claiming. I suggest, gentle reader, that you should be identically convinced by Pro's argument that theism does any good as you are by Pro's argument that {absence of theism} can cause any good; that is to say, not at all.

Steve Upshur

We should neither accept Steve Upshur's claim that God transformed his life, nor Pro's claim that belief in God transformed Steve's life. Note that It would be hard for me to prove that it wasn't Steve's faith that cured him... but then, I do not need to prove this counterclaim... the burden of proof is rightly on Pro to prove the claim that Steve's faith cured him... I suggest that this claim should be rejected since there is insufficient evidence to justify it in the light of the fact that Steve's life story is not unusual where there is no theism. In order to believe such claims, I would (and you should, gentle reader) want to see evidence that, IN PRINCIPLE, faith can cure addicts... if it were true that faith can cure addicts then I want to see the evidence that a greater percentage of addicts are cured of their addiction in a theistic setting than in a setting where no theism exists. This seems fair to me... and it seems entirely fair to me, in the absence of this evidence, to conclude that theism does not cure addicts.

Let me put this another way: Pro, if you expect anybody rational to accept that theistic belief can help cure addiction, demonstrate that more people are cured when you add talk of god to the mix. That would do the trick. That would convince me. I would publically admit that I was wrong about the complete uselessness of belief if you could show that belief actually helped cure addicts. No number of people *claiming* that God cured them would convince me; wait, that's not true... there is a SPECIFIC number of people claiming that God cured them that would convince me... do you know what that number is yet? I bet you can guess... just one more person than one would expect from a given population by looking at the number of people cured in similar circumstances where no mention of gods was involved. And, until you can even demonstrate the PRINCIPLE that theistic belief can help cure addiction, I stand by my assertion that there is insufficient evidence to accept any claims made about any individual case.

The Village Church in Dallas, Texas

Reread what Pro says about the Dallas church. Sure, Pro, devout Christians believe their faith calls them to serve others. I know that. They're very keen on that point. That's one of the selling points of their religion, you know? What I am demonstrating here, though, is that it's an irrelevancy what their faith calls them to do if they don't do it! They do PRECISELY the same amount of good work as they would do without any such faith... the only difference is that they like to ascribe that goodness to their faith because it helps prop it up; but if it were in fact true that their faith does make them behave better, as is their claim, then they would, um... oh, I remember, yeah, that's it, they would actually behave better than people without faith! But they don't and so, Pro, you cannot prove that they do... indeed, you haven't even really tried. All you've done is to perpetuate that deceptive theistic trick of claiming the inherent good in humans in the name of religion.

Let's have a look at the opportunities given by the church in Dallas and accurately quoted by my opponent as if to help me out:

1. greeting at the doors of the church
2. volunteering in one of our Next Generation ministries
3. teaching
4. singing
5. serving communion
6. giving financially to the needs of others
7. opening their homes to their neighbors

Opportunity 6 (six, ladies and gentlemen!) essentially equates to putting money in a collection tray for whatever purposes said church deems worthy which normally turns out to be, approximately, building more churches, doing more ministry, perpetuating unprovable and unhelpful myths, indulging in meaningless rituals and, of course, doing the same good for others as anybody else would whilst misguidedly ascribing that good to God and/or Faith.

Finally, Islam. Yes, "zakat" is one of the "five pillars". Zakat is often a forced tax; where it is not, it is stringently enforced culturally as well as religiously. Muslims do give more as zakat than non-Muslims give to charity... but zakat (who would have guessed this!?) can be used for all sorts of things that aren't what it purports to be for (the poor):

In the words of the Wikipedia entry for Zakat:
1. Zakat funds may be spent on the administration of a centralized zakat collection system.
2. Zakat can be used to finance a Jihad effort in the path of Allah.
3. Zakat money should be used provided the effort is to raise the banner of Islam.

So, Zakat money is often used to perpetuate (sometimes by bloodshed) a faith that cannot be demonstrated to be true and, as I hope you will now agree, gentle reader, cannot be demonstrated to be good. As a test of whether you really believe that the Muslim/zakat system is good, consider whether you would be happy as a poor person in a Muslim country.

I leave you all with a repetition of my initial claim that there are three common myths about religion:
1. Theists give more to charity than atheists
2. Theists are happier than atheists
3. Theists are more moral than atheists
Bonus point:
4. Theists get off drugs better than atheists

I put it to you that the act of believing in a god does no measurable good


== Conclusion ==

Con's argument fails because it relies on 4 fatal assumptions:

1. Human nature is basically good
2. God does not exist
3. Theists would likely behave the same way if they were non-Theists
4. Good cannot come from belief if it's also found in the absence of belief.

The problem with assumption #1 is that it's unproven and unprovable. Con dodges this burden and counters that I must actually prove the assumption's opposite. However, this is not how burden of proof works. Just because I have the title of "PRO" does not mean that I must also prove claims made by my opponent. An affirmative claim or assumption requires proof, regardless of which side makes it. Con cannot make any affirmative claims they want and then force me to prove or disprove them simply because I'm PRO..... that's just silly. If Con makes an assumption, they must give us reasons to accept it. In this case, they failed to do so.

Con never explicitly says assumption #2, but it's obviously implied in their tone. Con accuses Theism several times of being false, delusional, and meaningless (which suggests god does not exist). Therefore, Con argues, any good that comes from Theism is counterfeit. Unfortunately, my opponent specifically said in Round 1 that they did not wish to discuss whether god exists or whether Theism is true. Since these were the parameters of the debate, I ask that my opponent's assumption that religion is fake be ignored. It doesn't matter if Theism is false.... if sincere belief in it causes positive life transformation or generosity to the poor, then it has acted as a catalyst for good.

Con relies heavily on assumption #3 (closely linked with assumption #1). Con says that Theists would " do precisely the same amount of good work as they would do without any such faith." Unfortunately, this is a logical fallacy called "Appeal to Probability." It says what people "probably" would do without giving evidence or proof that they actually would. Con continually references "statistics" that supposedly show how Theists do the same amount of good as Atheists, yet Con gives exactly zero source citations of such statistics. As such, we have no choice but to dismiss this "evidence" as hearsay.

Finally, assumption #4 just doesn't make sense. Absence of a trait can yield good just as much as the presence of that trait. For example: If the lack of driving is good, can driving also be good? Yes. Lack of diving is good for the environment and causes people to walk and exercise. But, driving can also be good because it allows people to travel quickly - which can be very good in the case of an ambulance. Both the activity and the lack of the activity can both yield good in different ways. It's the same thing here - both worldviews yield good, sometimes, in different ways to different people. Good is not zero-sum.

The failure of any one of Con's 4 assumptions is enough to disqualify their argument. In this case, all four assumptions fail. In addition to incorrect assumptions, Con has relied on fallacious logic techniques such as Shifting the Goalposts, Ad Hominem, and Straw Manning, to name a few.

At the end of the day, Con has expended a great deal of thought and energy in their rebuttal attempts - and for that I commend them. Unfortunately, that energy would have been better spent in a debate titled "Theism is better than Atheism" or "Theism makes you a better person." Alas, neither is the premise at hand.

***Personal note - Thank you Con for a hard fought and enjoyable debate. I regret if you found aspects of our duel frustrating.... it's all in good fun! Win or lose, I enjoyed the chance to practice and improve, and I look forward to debating you again sometime if you wish.
Debate Round No. 5
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by sengejuri 2 years ago
No arguments in the comments please...
Posted by AndyHood 2 years ago
Carmina, I have not changed any premises! Then again, I do agree with you that it would be a silly debate if I were to keep changing the premises.

Pro has accused me of so doing, but all I have done is illustrate clearly how the title of the debate does, quite naturally, imply certain requirements to fulfil a positive claim.

If you (or Pro) think that I have simply fabricated an irrelevant and unrelated question, try out conceding to that other question and then see if it's possible to still stand strong on this one... i.e. if you think that it's deceptive of me to require Pro to show that theism is better than no theism, what would you think if Pro said:

"I accept that theism is never better than a lack of theism; theism does do some good"


"I accept that {X} is not better than {no X}. {X} is good"

I put it to you that this would be inconsistent. That's because "theism does good" absolutely implies that "theism is (at least sometimes, in some ways) better than no theism".

Consider my wizardly example; that also shows clearly why one cannot possibly assess the goodness of something without comparing it to a baseline. It's slightly dishonest to call my requirement of comparison to a baseline to be a shifting of goalposts or a changing of premises.

Oh, one other point... my opening round (which Pro saw before choosing to take up the debate) absolutely makes it clear that comparison to a baseline is essential:

1. Myth: Religious people give more to charity

The key here is the word "more".

What in the name of all things worthy do you expect me to be justifying here, some sort of idiotic claim such as "religious people never give anything to charity"? THAT is premise shifting and goalpost moving, which is exactly what Pro has done on the sly, not I!
Posted by Carmina 2 years ago
Silly debate if the Con keeps changing the premise"
Posted by AndyHood 2 years ago
I used up my whole allowance of characters in my final round and still had more to say... oh, well. I'll not add to the debate here and now, in the comments, but I would just like to add thanks to my opponent for an interesting, if at times frustrating, debate... thanks sengejuri!
Posted by DraftyBasilisk 2 years ago
Finally, a debate on this website that has two strong arguers of what they believe. This debate is a good read. It is too often that the debate is one sided, but both of you give as good as you get. It's not over, but I look forward to the voting period.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by dsjpk5 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Con admits that theists serve.people because of their belief. This supports the premise that theism does SOME good.