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RFD for Atheism Debate

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12/11/2015 5:41:05 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
This is an RFD for the debate between Soldier_4Christ and MagicAintReal given here:

Ugh. This was a really messy debate, guys. Both sides spend very little time actually arguing with each other. Instead, both of you really focus on advancing your own points, and as a result, what ends up happening here is that you both argue past each other.

But what makes the debate as a whole more problematic is a combination of two things: disagreement on the terms, and what the burdens look like as a result.

Con, where were your definitions in R1? Where were they in R2? When you finally introduced your views on the definitions in R3, not only is it late, making it seem abusive, but much of it doesn't even disagree with Pro's definitions. Yet this becomes a major source of friction between the debaters as we go along. I'll get into this more in a set of overviews to come shortly, but this is why definitions are normally presented by the instigator in the first round. There should have been no discussion of this.

As for burdens, much as Con makes a point of saying that these were clear in R1, I'm still confused. Everything's based on the definitions, and without clear definitions, I can't even make sense of what Con's opening round requires Pro to do, or what it requires Con to do for that matter. All I have is that Con is requiring Pro to "convince the reader/judge that he/she is correct despite [Con's] arguments against his position", and that that position is to defend their atheist views. Again, I'll spend more time here in an overview, but without much clarity on this end, I'm forced to make some assumptions about how the burdens are distributed.

OV1: Definitions

Atheism vs. Agnosticism

A large part of the debate revolves around this, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. For one thing, both sides are using different concepts of the latter term. Pro argues that it's about knowledge, and indeed, that is one of the definitions. Con argues that it's about belief, and indeed, that is ALSO one of the definitions. But the question is not which side is right, but rather whether atheism and agnosticism are opposed concepts. As Pro points out, they're not, though I don't think he does so in a way that clarifies it. So I will.

There are two different kinds of atheists. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity and agnostic because they claim that the existence of a deity is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact. Gnostic atheists don't believe any God exists, and claim to know that no God exists. This is a really important distinction, and if Pro had made it clearer, it would have made a decision simpler, particularly with regards to his statement on null hypotheses. I'll get into how this affected the debate in the conclusion, but just a note: Pro did address the fact that multiple atheists exist, even if it wasn't clear just how they were different and what it means to the debate as a whole.


I'm utterly baffled as to why Con didn't address this definition. It goes straight through the debate, and that's really important, because it establishes what Pro has to disprove or introduce doubt into over the course of the debate. It establishes the depth of his burden. There are three pieces: creator of the universe, ruler of the universe, and source of all moral authority. Importantly, these are linked by an "and", and as such, if Pro manages to disprove any single one, then he's met his burden. He spends the debate on the "creator" end, and so that's where I focus my attention. Hence, discussion of evolution and its likelihood and other issues that don't have anything to do with universe creation are irrelevant to the debate.

OV2: Burdens

Again, I found myself sort of lost here, and I think the above definitions have a lot to do with it. Con attempts to hold Pro to the following burden: Pro must defend gnostic atheism and fundamentally disprove God's existence in all facets, disproving God's involvement in any process that would otherwise be deemed naturalistic. Given the definitions above, I find fault this view to be faulty, chiefly on the basis of the definition of God that Con does not contest. Perhaps I could believe that holding Pro to gnostic atheism is justified based on the lapse in explanation from Pro of what he has to defend, but Pro is also the only one to explain the difference between kinds of atheism, and so when Con tries to peg him into one without explaining why, I'm left wanting. Still, because Pro himself said that his "burden is to justify the rejection of a creator of the universe", I buy that it's a categorical rejection, and one that encompasses only those aspects that cover creation of the universe itself. So I treat Pro's case as a defense of gnostic atheism.

Not that it matters greatly. I didn't view his argument at any point as defending agnosticism, though for some reason Con viewed it that way and Pro felt the need to explain the difference. Frankly, that part of the definitional and burdens debate felt superfluous to me, and I'm not clear on why it happened.

Con's case:

This comes off mostly as a series of assertions. Very little of his argumentation is sourced, and the warrants he's giving me are often based in asking vague questions.

Con starts by pointing out that not everything that we know exists is possible to detect via our senses. I frankly don't agree with several of his examples, as we can actually perceive them using devices that make them accessible, but that's really irrelevant. The point doesn't offer any proof of God's existence, only a reason why not perceiving God isn't reason enough to dimiss God's existence. That's fine, but it's never a point Pro makes.

Con continues by making a false dichotomy: either God created everything, or nothing became something. Pro doesn't challenge this in the conventional sense (i.e. adding more options to the list), but rather challenges it on the basis that nothing isn't a complete absence of any particles, which means nothing is, basically, something. Con never challenges this, so much of the argumentation he provides in his first round about how nothing cannot explode and something cannot spring from nothing is really not helping his case. It's more pre-rebuttal for a case that never appears from Pro.

Neither does the next point on the various laws of the universe. While Con eventually tries to make this point matter by explaining that universal laws don't just spring into existence, the argument a) comes too late, appearing for the first time in the final round, b) has no warrants or explanation as to why such laws can't come into existence naturally, and c) has no effect on universe creation because the laws aren't inherent to that particular event.

Con argues that the probability of certain events happening over the course of the universe's expansion is very low. There are several reasons I'm not buying this. First, while Pro was late to respond, he did eventually state that some of the issues (like energy distribution) only support his case. Second, it doesn't really apply to the definition of God that we're going by in this debate, since ith as to do with how the universe developed rather than its creation. Third, low probability isn't inherently a rejection of naturalism. Con just kind of asserts that the low probability for these things randomly happening makes God more likely, but I don't see a comparable probability for God-based creation, so while these numbers are extremely low, with nothing to compare it to, I'm at a loss as to how I should perceive these numbers in the context of the debate.
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12/11/2015 5:41:25 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
And I suppose this is where I'm having the biggest problem with Con's arguments: why does it matter that the naturalistic view is extremely unlikely? It may mean that other outcomes appear more likely, but I need comparisons to know that that's the case. I need to compare numbers to numbers. A low or high number by itself means little to nothing, unless they're 0 or infinity.

The logical arguments that Con goes on to give don't get a direct response from Pro, but he does make clear that nothingness is not the absence of everything, and goes into great detail on what nothing actually is, which makes it not entirely separate from a non-state of nothingness.

The remainder of Con's opening round is insignificant in the context of the debate. Whether teachers are reasonably teaching subjects regarding the inception of the universe is irrelevant to the resolution, as is any potential refutation of evolution (which, by the way, I found more than a little absurd personally). None of this has anything to do with the topic at hand, so it's dismissed.

Pro's case:

Personally, I felt that Pro took on too hefty of a burden, especially considering his later argumentation with regards to agnosticism and atheism. He didn't have to necessarily prove that we should reject any possibility of a God as creator of the universe. Atheism doesn't require an outright rejection, only a belief, just as theism doesn't require an absolute certainty of God's existence. Con uses this against Pro later, examining the importance of outright rejection and how that doesn't equate to a null hypothesis, where an assumption of negation is taken on until proof is proffered. So I'm not buying the null hypothesis argument, though I don't think that does much to Pro's case. All it means is that I'm not automatically preferring his arguments when he presents uncertainties that Con attacks. Con doesn't give me a reason to view his side as representing a null hypothesis of sorts, so he doesn't garner any special benefit in the perception of his side.

Before I get into his points, let's be clear on what Pro can do to win. Pro could disprove the existence of God, or to explain how God could not have accomplished the various tasks that are required for that deity's existence to be justified. This requires negating the "God as the creator of the universe" view, which was established in the definitions.

Pro could also prove that naturalistic means exist for the various occurrences that purportedly required God to be possible. By this, I don't meant that he merely need to present natural alternatives to the God creates the universe idea, but that he also needs to provide a solid means of for believing that this is probable.

So let's start with the first. Pro never attempts to disprove God's existence directly, so disproving the possibility of God creating the universe is the sole means by which we can determine if he met the former. Con's incorrect that Pro presents only one reason why God cannot exist. He actually presented 2, using one of Pro's own points to make the second.

The first of these appears in the opening round. Pro argues that creation is a stative process, requiring both time and the passage thereof to exist in order for it to occur. Con attempts to respond to this, but his responses never really hit the mark. He argues that God exists outside of time and space, but even if I'm buying that (and Con gives me no reason to do so beyond his assertion), that doesn't explain how God can engage in creation within an environment that does not yet have time. I suppose it's possible that Con could have argued that the universe was created outside of time, within this alternate dimension, and then shoved into this dimension, but a) that was never clearly Con's argument, b) that just keeps shoving back the question, as time would have to exist in this alternate dimension in order for creation to occur. So I'm buying that creation is impossible for God to accomplish, which means I could vote Pro right now, even without a naturalistic reason why it occurs.

The second involves Con's own arguments on the conservation of matter and energy. Essentially, the argument goes that God cannot possibly have created the universe because conservation of matter and energy apply to God as well. This is actually an area where Con's placed himself in a double-bind: if God can do this, then why can't subatomic particles, and if subatomic particles can't do this, why can God? I never feel like I get an answer to this, and it leaves me at least questioning the double standard that Con's giving me, which leads to Pro having yet another reason to dismiss God as the causal agent of the universe.

As for proving a naturalistic means, I think Pro accomplishes that as well. I frankly don't see the quality and breadth of response that's required to address the quantum fluctuations argument. Con introduces little bits of doubt here and there, but most of the responses have nothing to do with the inception of the universe in general, and nothing at all to do with the start of time and space. Con doesn't address the major sources that bear out Pro's argument, and really only questions where the fluctuations come from, which has no bearing on whether or not they caused the universe.

Perhaps there is still little reason to buy this (though, admittedly, I don't see why " Pro gives me more than adequate explanation, and I thoroughly disagree that it's overly complex or difficult to read), but the only way that's true is if I'm presented with an alternative that makes me think twice. That requires that Con present me with some reason to believe that this is incredibly unlikely (he didn't) and that God as an inception is a lot more likely (he didn't). Lacking that, I'm forced to conclude that the one explanation I'm getting with experimental evidence is the one I should buy.


It just seems very straightforward to me: Pro had to prove that either God couldn't cause the universe, or something else did. He did both. Not unequivocally, but I don't think there's a way to do so without repeating the process of universe creation, which is currently impossible and would set Pro's burden so high that it could never be met. I don't think Pro was forced to take on that burden, and as such, he's not required to make that argument. Con doesn't give me sufficient reason to doubt Pro's arguments, and in fact ends up contributing to his points in the process of making his own arguments. As such, I'm left with little choice but to accept what I'm told. Pro clearly met the burden he set for himself and the only reasonable burden I can perceive from Con that's reasonable, and so I vote Pro.

One other note:

Con, I could really do without all the snarky attitude that pervades much of your argumentation. I get it, you feel very strongly about your views on this particular matter and you didn't like the way that Pro handled the debate, but all of the sarcasm and passive aggression really wasn't necessary, and it did more to detract from your argument than it added. Pro gets a bit snarky with a couple of his responses, especially towards the end, but it's not nearly as pervasive as it is in Con's. Both of you really need to calm it down and just have a straight up discussion.
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12/11/2015 7:22:07 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
Your analysis and input are impressive, thanks for taking the time to give valid criticisms for both Pro and Con. I always thought my atheism vs agnosticism explanation was clear, but I've taken a new approach to explaining this given your analysis. If only all voters could do what you do...thanx again