The Instigator
smilingsoprano
Pro (for)
Winning
18 Points
The Contender
lazarus_long
Con (against)
Losing
12 Points

The Existence of a "Supreme Being," "Creator," or "God" is not Debatable

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/27/2007 Category: Religion
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,606 times Debate No: 1066
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (10)

 

smilingsoprano

Pro

And here I am, debating whether or not something is debatable . . . oh well. Here goes. There quite simply cannot and never will be a resolution to the debate over God. This is true because of the nature of religion. Religion depends on faith, or unquestioning acceptance of powers and motives deemed "too big" for us. Thus, whenever evidence is presented supporting scientific theory, a religious person can simply respond that yes, that's right, but it exists/is true/works because it is God's will that it does. And there is no way to PROVE them wrong.

Conversely, while scientific theories can be disproven, the basic belief structure behind them cannot. If someone disproved the Theory of Relativity, then that would not be proof against science, but simply against one manifestation of science's nearly infinite possibilities.

To sum up my argument, the basic precepts of a religious debate (e.g. there is a God vs. there isn't) cannot be proven or disproven. For those of the religious inclination, faith solves every problem, and for those swayed by science, there is always another theory.

I would like to end by stating that this should not become a debate over the existence of God, and I will not declare my feelings one way or another. Please respond only to the thesis of my argument.
lazarus_long

Con

I suspect we may actually, at least to a great degree, be on the same side of this question, but in the interests of furthering the cause of investigation into the whole "God" question...:-)...I thought it might be interesting to take it on.

I am very tempted to simply ask, "why not?" and leave it at that, but clearly this would be an insufficient response. But it IS the essence of the approach I'm going to have to take here. The claim is made that the "existence of God" is not open to debate due to the "nature of religion" - that religion, in requiring faith, eliminates the possibility of questioning its subject matter. And perhaps, for some who would call themselves "religious," this must be so. However, if anyone is truly and honestly interested in furthering their understanding of God, even with the assumption that they believe He/She/It exists, I fail to see how that person could not be interested in pursuing any question regarding the nature of this supposed entity. And that would have to include the most fundamental question regarding that nature, whether or not said entity exists in the first place.

By what right does "religion" (in general) rule itself out-of-bounds for this sort of inquiry? It's all well and good to say that "religion requires faith," but why should that mean that others (those who do not profess "faith" in a given religion) cannot conduct an honest inquiry into it? By this I do not mean simply a desperate hunt for any and all arguments which would "prove" the religion to be incorrect - I do acknowledge, though, that those happen all too often. But why cannot one conduct a truly sincere and honest inquiry into the basic questions of religion, through whatever means (including, even, the scientific method!) are available?

Part of the problem with questions like this one is that very often, the subject matter is very, very ill-defined. Simply asking "Is there a God?", without specifying just what one means by the symbol "God," is to ask a question that is so broad as to be virtually meaningless. And if that's the case, then very likely the question IS "undebateable" - but not beecause it is a matter of religion, simply that the question isn't very well put in the first place. That happens quite often, in many subjects which quite clearly ARE open to rational inquiry and debate. So there's no special exclusion here.

We are not forced to deal with such sloppy questions, though (and in fact, we should not even try to deal with them; we should instead require those asking such things to be more careful with their side of the argument). We have any number of quite specific descriptions or models of "God" from which to choose, and those do make specific claims about the nature of the purported entity. To the degree that those claims ARE specific and detailed, they are clearly open to question and to testing - and why should we not pursue such things? The religious among us claim to be interested in promoting the "truth" - and if this is really so, then they should have nothing to fear from an investigation which IS conducted fairly and with the honest goal of trying to determine just what that truth is. Again, if someone is "going after them" in the manner of a vendetta against that particular religion, that's something else entirely. But such unfair investigations should not be permitted in any subject, and definitely should not be seen as any reason why fair research cannot or should not be conducted.

So if I or my religion makes the claim that "God," as we believe Him/Her/It to be, is a 300-foot-tall being of fire who lives at the South Pole, I (or we) have made a specific, testable claim, and have little to object about if that claim is tested. Someone can mount an expedition to the South Pole, and, assuming no 300-foot-tall being of fire is found there, we should then either retract or modify our claim. (Many religions choose to do neither in the face of similar circumstances, but I believe that says much more about their actual commitment to the truth than about whether or not religious claims "should" be tested.) Now, clearly, not many religious claims are this clear-cut or as readily testable. But simply because something might be difficult to test is no reason that we shouldn't look for some way to test it. After all, we may learn something very interesting along the way, and isn't that what inquiry is supposed to be all about?
Debate Round No. 1
smilingsoprano

Pro

First, I would like to say thank you for your detailed and well-reasoned argument. I enjoy debating intelligent opponents.

On the topic of your argument, I agree with many of the points you make. People most certainly have a right (and I believe, to some degree, a responsibility) to inquire into the nature of their or others' religions. When such inquiry reaches the ultimate question of the existence of their deity, however, the debate is no longer valid simply because of either side's ability to solve for any question. Let me present an argument that I myself have had with a friend which I believe perfectly demonstrates this conclusion.

I attend a Catholic highschool, and, as such, am required to take 4 years of theology. In one Theology class, my teacher presented a slideshow on "the incorruptibles," bodies of saints that have not decayed over the years. Later, a close friend and I argued over whether these preserved corpses were acts of God, proof of His existence. The argument on the religious side was that such phenomena, seemingly applying only to those the Catholic Church have declared saints, could be none other than divine. The scientific argument against their divinity was that Catholic saints were some of the only people whose bodies were exhumed hundreds of years after their deaths, and thus the sample was skewed. It was argued that had such large numbers of people from other religions been examined, it would be entirely possible for them to include more non-Catholic incorruptibles. The religious side countered by saying that scientists had found no reasonable explanation. The scientific side replied with the argument that just because it was not yet explained did not mean that it couldn't be.

As you can see, the argument went nowhere, for all the logical and reasonable statements on both sides. Any new point for science was dismissed through the argument that it was "God's will," and any new point for religion was thrown out because it could not be proven.

Furthermore, because God is said to be ineffable, his designs and presence outside our plane of human intellect and comprehension, it logically follows that we cannot debate the matter of his existence/non-existence. Any arguments against the presence of such a Being can be made inconsequential with a simple "well, we just don't know what it means yet. That's what He wants, and we can't understand."

Science is based on the proposal that we can and will understand everything if we work hard enough. Religion calls for an acceptance of non-understanding. Neither side can garner adequate proof for the other.

So, to respond to your argument; yes, people should inquire into religion and question its precepts, but the essence of belief cannot be debated. Debate requires that questions have concrete answers, no matter how shaped by opinion and experience. There is an underlying proof and evidence that may be relied upon. In matters of religion, all such proof can be dismissed.
lazarus_long

Con

Some interesting arguments. Let's take each one and see where it leads us.

First, the notion that ultimately, any such debate on God's existence, when it gets right down to that final question, becomes "no longer valid simply because of either side's ability to solve for any question." That's true, though, only if we for some reason grant one side of the debate (and frankly, it's generally the "religious" side) the option to dodge their responsibilities in a debate. Specifically, in a debate, you're supposed to support your assertions with evidence and reasoning. Permitting one side to simply throw up their hands and offer the assertion, "Well, God did it that way, and Some Things Man Is Not Meant To Understand" (or words to that effect) IS just such a suspension of the rules. It's worse than that, actually; it amounts to permitting one side to argue through vigorous assertion, to offer the equivalent of "well, I'm right and that's all there is to it!", since appealing to the "that's the way God is" clearly presupposes that there IS, after all, a God in the first place. But since that's the question at hand, it's really just dodging the issue. We don't permit such behavior in any other field of honest inquiry and debate - why are we so willing to grant the religious, and no others, a free pass in this regard?

And is that not exactly what's happening when you say: "Any arguments against the presence of such a Being can be made inconsequential with a simple 'well, we just don't know what it means yet. That's what He wants, and we can't understand.'?" Do you really think that renders opposing arguments "inconsequential"? Would you accept an argument of that form from an opponent on some other topic, NOT having to do with religion? Is this not special-casing religion, and permitting the "religious" opponent to get away with some decidedly invalid debating tactics?

And in your example of the "incorruptibles," we see just such tactics. The arguments you describe the "religious side" are offering are, each and every one, classics of flawed reasoning. There ARE other explanations, and to deny this is a classic "excluded middle" tactic. Other religions offer very similar if not identical "miracles" of preservation. The "science doesn't offer any reasonable explanation" in part relies on the ignorance of the person taking the scientific side - perhaps no alternative explanation is known TO THEM - but is itself an "argument from ignorance;" i.e., "I can't think of any other explanations, so the one I am proposing MUST be right." The specific argument in question may have "gone nowhere," but that by itself is not evidence that ALL such arguments must "go nowhere," or that even this argument could not have been more capably handled (no offense to you meant, of course) by someone more familiar with the issue in question. This example is, in fact, a perfect one to demonstrate what I was talking about in the first round. We have a very specific, testable proposition: that certain bodies have been miraculously preserved (through an "act of God") due to the faith of those deceased. The arguments offered by the "religious" side do NOT seem to have been all that reasonable, and all that would be required for the "scientific" side was to show a viable, non-supernatural explanation for the preservation, and/or to show that there was no preferential preservation only of the "faithful." That this was not done in this case is not evidence for the proposition that it could not or should not be done.

I would also have to question your claim that science is "based on the proposal that we can and will understand everything if we work hard enough," whereas religion is based on "an acceptance of non-understanding." Or rather, I would have to expand on that distinction. Science ultimately is based on the notion that the universe is not just knowable but consistent; it is therefore valid to derive models for how the universe works by observing it, and making the assumption that a given action or stimulus will always result in the same result. But what happens if we deny that assumption? To say that there are phenomena which cannot be understood through repeated observation and testing is really to say that these phenomena are chaotic; they follow no rules, and the results of two separate but identical situations can vary wildly and capriciously.

Now, if we are to assume that there is a God whose actions are purely chaotic and capricious, then we would certainly also have to assume that you can learn nothing about the nature of that God through observing his/her/its actions. But this is not the case for most models of "God" which are offered to us for consideration - these Gods are not supposed to behave simply as random-number generators, but are described as having specific, consistent attributes. They are always good, and/or all-powerful, and/or all-knowing, etc., etc.. Again, such claims most certainly can be subjected to reasoned analysis, and therefore debate - as long as both sides are willing to play by the rules for such things! Assertions, evidence, and reason CANNOT simply be "dismissed" by the religious side of the question, IF they truly wish to debate the honestly and are interested in determining the truth.

If your argument comes down to "the existence of God is not debateable, because those who assert God's existence aren't willing to actually debate," then clearly I can have no disagreement with that. But if you are trying to say that there is truly something inherent in the nature of God (the God, A God...see, it DOES get difficult unless we're willing to point to a particular God) which renders his/her/its existence "not debatable" - then I would have to say that this has not yet been shown.
Debate Round No. 2
smilingsoprano

Pro

Wow. What a wonderful debate this has become. In this, my last speech, I am going to go over the points that my opponent (and an incredible opponent, at that) has brought up and show how they clearly flow to the affirmative side. (Any highschool policy debaters out there, that was for you).

1. Everyone can and should inquire into religion and test its claims. I conceded this point in my second speech with the stipulation that such inquiry becomes immpossible to pursue once it reaches the final question of existence. I'll elaborate on this further on.

2. The example of the argument over "incorruptibles" is only one example, not necessarily indicative of a general trend, and might have been better handled by a more knowledgeable debater (no offense taken, by the way. I concede that 16-year-olds probably do not have enough information to sufficiently argue that topic). While it is true that such an argument could have gone much farther than it did had both sides been a bit older and wiser, the end result would have been the same. Even when faced with a valid scientific explanation and examples of "miracles of preservation" from other religions, the religious side could still claim ineffability. They could still argue that it was so because God wished it to be so. I am aware that you addressed this argument, and I will present a response in my last point. Furthermore, while an example is but a singular data point, it was brought up because it IS indicative. I have had many similar conversations on different topics, and I would not have presented an anomaly as argument.

3. Arguments against the specific attributes of a God (or His/Her/Its existence) "CANNOT simply be "dismissed" by the religious side of the question, IF they truly wish to debate them honestly and are interested in determining the truth." While I would agree with the basic argument that the accepted rules of a debate require that a side respond clearly and precisely to arguments and NEVER dismiss them out of hand, in a religious debate, such rules become meaningless. Here, I am not saying that religion is "exempt" from the rules of debate or that "permitting the "religious" opponent to get away with some decidedly invalid debating tactics" is acceptable. Quite simply, religion has defined God's parameters as having no parameters. At least in the Christian religions (and I admit that I am somewhat deficient in my knowledge of other personal belief structures and religions, but what I do know leads me to believe that they are very similar in this attribute), God is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Everywhere. As this is an accepted and defined statute of their religion, an opponent is debating these assertions as well as the overall question of existence. Thus, when a religious person faced with a hard-hitting question about their faith answers "'Well, God did it that way, and Some Things Man Is Not Meant To Understand,'" they are not operating under "a suspension of the rules." Rather, they are quite inside the rules. The rules require a feasible, direct answer, and, according to the precepts of their religion, that IS a valid response. They truly believe and hold that God's will is unknowable, and thus are allowed under the accepted strictures of debate an answer to any question. THIS loophole in the rules gives religion an advantage which renders the debate (not the arguments) invalid. Their honest debates of the "truth" are ultimately an exception. Yes, religion is a special case, but not because they are benevolently allowed an easy way out. They legitimately lay claim to an easy way out under the precepts of their beliefs. Thus, even an honest, clean debate on the matter of religion will never have an acceptable resolution, which I hold to be one of the requirements of a debate.

Thank you so much for taking me up on this. I have wanted to argue this for a long time, and you have helped solidify my ideas and given me many new points to think about. Good debate and good luck!
lazarus_long

Con

Before writing my closing argument, let me also thank my opponent for a very thought-provoking, intelligent, and graciously conducted debate. If only they could all be this way!

We've covered quite a bit of ground here, and I believe that we may at this point be in danger of neglecting the original subject, at least as I saw it. Let's refocus; this wasn't (I believe) supposed to be about whether or not God actually exists, or whether or not some who would argue in favor of the existence of God always play by the rules, but whether or not God's existence is debatable at all. I would have to disagree with the assertion that this equates to whether or not this question can ever be resolved; quite clearly, each of us - or at least, I think, most of us - resolve it for ourselves, all the time. Must we be able to have everyone universally agree that the question has been answered, and all agree on the same answer, in order for the question itself to be "debatable?" I think not. As I said earlier, people on the opposite sides of ANY question can debate that question, and hopefully learn from the experience, so long as both are committed (as, I believe, we both have been here) to an honest and respectful search for the right answer - WHETHER OR NOT a single "right answer" is every actually discovered to the satisfaction of all involved.

DO the "accepted rules of debate" become meaningless when dealing with "religious" questions? I don't think so. Saying that "religion has defined God's parameters as having no parameters" doesn't change this; defining God as lacking certain limits is not the same as saying that God has no parameters. If we say that God has no limits whatsoever, we've basically rendered the term "God" meaningless - the term could literally mean anything, everything, and nothing at all. A God who truly has NO limits could be simultaneously good and evil, all-knowing and completely ignorant, and other such nonsense. Any definition of God that points to a specific, identifiable concept must place limits upon God, simply because in making such a definition we are saying that God IS this, and NOT that. And, as I tried to point out earlier, any specific claim is open to question.

We wind up with two possibilities: either God can be specifically defined or not. If a specific definition CAN be given for God, then those specifics are open to being tested and debated (and the more specific they are, the more clear this becomes). If God cannot be specifically defined, then I would have to agree that the question of the existence of such a God cannot be resolved OR debated. But in that case, it's because there's simply nothing to discuss; such a general, vague assertion, the kind which amounts to "God is whatever I say he is at the moment, and I don't have to be consistent from one moment to the next" is never debatable, whether we call the subject at hand "God" or use some other non-religiously-loaded label.

But even within a discussion of a clearly-defined God - and we could say that at least some versions of the Christian model of God would qualify - is the "Well, God did it that way, and Some Things Man Is Not Meant To Understand"
truly "playing by the rules" as opposed to avoiding them? I would submit that it is not. There are two possible cases that I can see here - either we're talking about a situation in which a non-supernatural explanation has been offered (in which case the "religious" response equates to, "well, yes, that's a valid explanation, but God was behind it anyway") or "God" is being offered as an explanation for something which has yet to be otherwise explained.

The former case is actually one of the begging the question; the religious proponent, when faced with an alternative explanation, is saying 'well, yes, but since God exists, God is ultimately behind it!" when the existence of God is the question being debated in the first place! You cannot argue for something by simply assuming its correctness in your arguments, hence this is a case of not playing by the rules.

The latter case is a bit more subtle, but still involves a fallacious argument. Giving "God did it!" as the explanation for an otherwise-unexplained phenomenon is actually the classic basis for primitive religion in the first place. God (or Gods) is/are the reason the lightning flashes or the tides rise and fall, to the primitive who cannot conceive of a non-supernatural explanation, or who does not have an understanding of the actual mechanisms behind these things. As our understanding of the natural world has grown, the range of things we see as being due to the direct intervention of God contracts. (This is, I think, what is behind much of the perceived enmity between religion and science - a fear on the part of the former that the latter may ultimately sweep it away entirely - but that's the subject for another debate.) We should, though, by now be at the point where we see the flaw in simply pointing to God as the explanation for something, ESPECIALLY if that is being used as an argument in support of God's existence. Clearly, it's only valid to do so if you can show that there REALLY ARE no other possible explanations, and that is something that is very, very hard to do. To use it in an argument as evidence of God's existence, then, is most clearly stepping "outside the rules." (Unless, of course, you really CAN show that God is the ONLY possible explanation. But to date, I haven't seen an example of this.)

So - can the existence of God be debated? I think we've shown that it can. Will we ever resolve the question to everyone's satisfaction? Of course not - but that can be said for practically any question that can be or has been debated. Some people (on EITHER side of the issue) simply aren't interested in rational arguments, and will believe what they choose to believe regardless of what is shown in a debte. ANY debate. If resolving the question to the satisfaction of all were a requirement for something to be considered "debatable," then I would submit to you that NOTHING could be considered "debatable." And I see nothing else which might be considered a reason for special-casing the question of God's existence.
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by Raisor 9 years ago
Raisor
No it doesnt. The debate is like a meta-debate, a debate about whether something can be debated. IT isnt about "is there a god." Its a completely different debate than the one in question.
Posted by Mangani 9 years ago
Mangani
The simple fact that this is being debated pretty much nullifies the "pro" argument... And she acknolwedges this in her opening sentence!
Posted by Raisor 9 years ago
Raisor
Props to pro for the flow analysis (former policy debater here!).

Both sides should have stayhed more focused on the issue.

Pro's issue of the nature of "faith" dropped out of the round for some reason. That honestly seemed to be one of the most direct and convincing argument fragments...

I dont think Con does a good enough job answering Pro's arguments that the nature of God and religion is different from other topics. He mostly spends his time dealing with specific religious claims that are sort of incidental and dont get to the heart of "what makes God a different subject." He does in Round 2, but I think Pro spends more time on it.

More clash? (lol)

Better than most of the debates I see here though...
Posted by joze14rock 9 years ago
joze14rock
But I do have to say that Con has a sketchy and fragile case. I think he focuses too much on this point:
"If your argument comes down to "the existence of God is not debateable, because those who assert God's existence aren't willing to actually debate," then clearly I can have no disagreement with that"
Their are in fact religious folk who DO debate the existence of God through their own religion.
E.g.- Christian Apologetics like William Lane Craig and Peter Kreeft.
Too much focus on how religious folk don't want to debate over the topic.... which isnt necessarily true.

Keep in mind that I am a bit biased on reading this debate, so please pardon me, because I do agree with the pro.
I debated against the existence of God in one debate, and used the same argument the Pro used.

But so far, Con really has well thought out points. I'll keep up with Round 3 and see how that sways my opinion.
Posted by joze14rock 9 years ago
joze14rock
Interesting debate. Good job on both sides
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