Friday, February 06, 2009

Yet another loaded debate topic

Via a comment from reader Curtis Cameron:

Next week (on Darwin Day), Dan Barker will debate Kyle Butt on the specific question of the existence of the God of the Bible.

And from the linked web site:

Barker will affirm, "I know the God of the Bible does not exist"...

Okay, seriously, this is getting ridiculous.  In fact, it's rapidly becoming my number one pet peeve about theist/atheist debates.  I'm going to try to make this real simple.

Attention debaters: Stop falling for this!  Theists who challenge you to a debate are not representatives of the National Forensics League.  They are not a neutral party trying to set up an objective and fair confrontation for both sides.  They are deliberately trying to stack the deck against you.  They want you to lose the debate before you set foot in the room.

How in the world did Dan Barker fall for this?  One of the strongest tools that atheists have is attributing the burden of proof to the theist.  I don't know that unicorns do not exist.  I don't know that Russell's Teapot orbiting beyond Mars does not exist.  I simply don't have any reason to believe that they do.

By accepting this ridiculous topic, (a) Dan Barker is forced to defend a position that he probably doesn't hold; (b) he's now locked into a position where the theist can just spout vague pseudo-philosophy about knowledge and epistemology, and not defend the concept that a god exists at all.

This is important, guys.  Pay attention to the format and the topic before you agree to a debate. Tell your friends.  Don't make me keep repeating it.

Will somebody please pass this friendly advice along?  This trend must be stopped.

If I were Barker, I'd try to salvage this bad situation by making a self-deprecating joke about it.  First thing you say is, "Let me tell you right away I'm going to lose this debate.  Why?  The topic is set to a position that is not mine.  I don't 'know' that there is no God, any more than I know that there is no FSM.  So recognizing that I've already lost my case, I'm going to turn this debate into a draw by making sure my opponent loses right along with me.  He doesn't know that God exists because..." etc.


  1. If it helps, when they say "the god of the bible", it's a bit easier. I couldn't say that I know "any old god" doesn't exist, but I can be pretty confident that old bastard from the Wholly Babble is a figment.

  2. That's actually a good point. One can use the internal contradictions of his character, along with statements made to confirm his existence and a failure for those statements to comply.

    Heck, the bible even sets the stage for how to prove if god is correct. There's an entire section dedicated to proving gods existence by getting a miracle to happen, just use the logic of the bible to prove it wrong.

  3. Amnistar, have them build an altar with a bull and have God set it ablaze? If that doesn't happen then do we get to kill them like Elijah does? Sounds like a good test to me.

  4. You're right. You can probably use internal contradictions to say you're certain THAT God doesn't exist. Just remain laser-focused on what would have to be true according to the Bible. I wouldn't use the problem of evil, because morals are too vague and complex to nail down in an hour debate. But maybe go after the whole "drink poison" line, or "if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains." If you're good, maybe you can even drag a liberal theist into saying "Well yeah, sure, if you take the Bible THAT LITERALLY then it doesn't exist..." and then basically you've won.

  5. That's the one, I'd forgotten the specifics.

  6. Y'know, I've heard Matt say many times that, while he can't prove that a generic God doesn't exist, some definitions of God can be proved not to exist, and I think the God of the Bible is one of those.

    And take a look at Kyle Butt's views:

    This isn't one of those vague theologians like Lennox - Butt is a Biblical literalist, who thinks the Earth is 6000 years old, that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.

    All Barker needs to do is first get agreement of what Butt thinks that belief in the God of the Bible requires, then just stand there and laugh.

    I think Barker will do great here - in debates I've heard he's the best because of his knowledge of the Bible, and his ability to zero-in on the vulnerability/fallacy in his opponent's argument. Dawkins is unfamiliar with the Bible, and Hitchens doesn't respond to his opponents' points but makes his own unrelated comments.

  7. I don't think Dan fell for anything...

    "I know the God of the Bible does not exist"

    Me too - and it's really not that difficult to demonstrate why. It's a golden opportunity for him to avoid the deeply philosophical points that go over the heads of so many spectators and really get down to the meat of showing them what's in the book that they love, yet ignore.


  8. You've all made pretty excellent points, I may revise my opinion about this topic. I'd like to see how Dan does, though.

  9. Yes, negatives can be proven (in the non-mathematical sense too) by showing logical contradictions or demonstrating false claims that are tied in as necessary positives.
    In my experience, that still wont help much in many cases, because the debating theists often are simply not interested in sticking with decency and honesty to their own definitions.
    What this sort of topic needs is a definition of the thing to be debated at the outset, constantly visible to all of the audience. Of course this still doesn't stop a theist (or any other person) of a certain sort disregarding all rules of logic or proper discourse and switching to a different God anyway.
    Demonstrating that having a creative and influential God who is also outside of space and time is a paradox will not bother a theist who has no problem claiming that a non-spatiotemporal God is of a different category and therefore still able to be self-contradicting without actually being self-contradicting.
    Basically, when they realize they can't get out of that corner, they torpedo the discussion by kicking its foundation out from under it. Then they follow the script: fill the rest of the time with sophistry and other rhetoric (falsely equivocate any word your opponent uses with any other sense you can think of), and odds are good that your gullible and relatively uneducated audience will never realize when you lost, declared intellectual bankruptcy and conceded.

  10. I'd suggest Dan ask the audience to collectively pray for a miracle. I mean, with all those people, it has to come true.

    While potentially the method of reinterpreting the Bible could try and evade the obviously fallacious nature of the Bible, by merely running down the endless list of absurdities Dan could well show that disregarding them all means not talking about the God of the Bible at all.

  11. I mentioned before in an earlier post of Barker debating a couple of theists on this exact same premise: prove God does NOT exist.

    I guess he just doesn't learn.

  12. Yeah, I'm going over a debate that Barker had, and yeah. I see what you guys mean.

  13. Following on from what Zurahn said, I'd suggest that Dan bring in a glass of piss with him at the start of the debate, put it on a plinth in front of him and ask the whole room to pray throughout the debate for it to be changed into wine. At the end of the debate, ask Butt if he would care to drink the contents of the glass.
    Yeah, I know. Childish.

    But funny.


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