Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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Some Ideas for Debating

by Francois Tremblay



I posted these suggestions for debate openings on the message board. Just based on a couple of ideas I had, new perspectives based on presuppositionalism, with some suggestions for arguments to use.

For more debate opening suggestions, see:
How the Theist Checkmates Himself

In this debate, I will be defending the position of materialism and materialist apologetics. To be more specific, my position is that only a material universe, where no god exists, is compatible with human reasoning and cognition. Thus, the Christian is always self-refuting, even when he proposes that a god exists, because this statement assumes that there is objective meaning, which is incompatible with Christianity and theism in general.

Opposed to my position is Christian presuppositionalism, the position of my opponent, which states that God is the necessary source of human cognition. It says that God is Creator and Sovereign, and that we cannot have cognition without God creating its preconditions, such as logic, values, induction, and so on.

But this worldview entails that the universe is in fact subjective and unknowable, thus making human cognition impossible. God could, for example, make it so that A is not-A, that gratuitous cruelty is good, or that the Sun stops in its path in the sky. This is clearly unacceptable and, if we admit that this is possible, then no cognition is possible. We can no longer trust our senses, our concepts and our reasoning. And the Christian cannot trust the reasoning that led him to the truth of his religion either, thus defeating his own position.

Let’s look at logic and induction more carefully. Logic is by definition a necessary property. Contradictions cannot exist. To even declare it possible for A to be not-A is to give up all coherency. If the Christian replies that god cannot do the impossible, we must remind him that he himself believes that God has created and has control over logic. If he argues that God cannot create contradictions, then he must abandon his belief in a Creator and Sovereign being.

Induction says that our previous experiences can be used as a guide to our future experiences. If we see the Sun rise every single day of our life, we expect that it will rise tomorrow. The law of gravity, which itself is based on other observations, confirms this inductive reasoning. But if God can decide that the Sun stops in its tracks – as he does in Joshua 10:12-14 – or change any other future experience, then we must abandon induction altogether, including the concepts we form from induction. Therefore the very idea of “god” must be abandoned, as it is a concept formed by induction.

This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that Christianity implies a Cartoon Universe, with God as the Cartoonist, and human beings as the drawings. Just like a Cartoonist, God does as he pleases, as Psalms 115:3 states: “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased”. In a cartoon, magic and wishes can come true, even though they are completely unrealistic. The Bible says that if you have faith, you can move a mountain around, that donkeys and snakes can talk, and that everything can pop up from nothing. This is very cartoonish, and has nothing to do with reality.

Of course, Christians do agree to a certain extent on what the universe is about and how God changes reality. But the inter-subjective agreement of Christians on what God does and does not do, on God’s nature, is not objective. For instance, God could manipulate all the Christians’ minds and give them the illusion of free will, while making them believe that their worldview is coherent. So Christian agreement on anything is not proof that their worldview is coherent.

Materialism makes sense. A self-contained, material universe means that things cannot be changed on the subjective whim of a transcendent being. I can trust my inductive reasoning because no god is going to come and stop the Sun with its giant hand. I can find knowledge because I can observe an objective reality and align my reasoning with its nature, based on logic and induction. The Christian has none of these, therefore he is unable to justify his knowledge.

And as I said before, the Christian cannot know that his religion is true unless he can trust his own material reasoning first. So when he attacks materialism and supports the subjective Christian universe, he is cutting off his own justification for Christianity, and denies the principles that lead to accepting Christianity. My opponent’s very presence in this debate tonight assumes that materialism is true and that Christianity is false – to defend his religion, he needs to deny it.

As I close my opening case, I must remind my opponent of his burden of proof in this debate. He may attempt to show that materialism cannot explain this or that feature of cognition. But like the Creationist debating evolution, trying to take down the opposition is futile. Without support for his own position, the presuppositionalism is left standing on a vacuum. His burden of proof is to demonstrate that Christianity does not lead to a subjective Cartoon universe where cognition is impossible. And I think I have proven that this is strictly impossible. Thank you.

* on rebuttal:
list the terms used by the opponent on his first rebuttal that rely on objectivity. if this were a strict debate, I would simply ask him why he is using all these materialist concepts to prop up his worldview. But since that would make for a short rebuttal, I will also address his points. But remember throughout my reply that even if he is right on all these points, he could only make them with materialist concepts, thus refuting himself.
use the three methods for refuting theistic epistemology
if he brings up morality: use Euthyphro Dilemma
logic, objectivity = absolutes, any question commits fallacy of stolen concept
induction = self-contained universe
concepts, science = induction
values = causality applied to actions
purpose = application of long-term values
meaning = interpretation of symbols, does not depend on substance
reasoning = objective universe + moral will
reason and epistemology = sense perception + logic + concepts

*****

Okay. Tonight we’re debating on whether gods exist or not. And I’m arguing for the position that there are no gods. Now, you might think that this is a bit much. I mean, how do I know there are no gods, right? Just a mere human. How do I know that there aren’t unicorns on some distant planet orbiting, say, Alpha Centauri? Unfortunately, I don’t have a spaceship to go find that out yet.

Well, there are two things. First, I really can’t know whether there is a unicorn in the Alpha Centauri system or not. You don’t have evidence that there is one, either. And the person who says something exists or does not exist, has the burden of proof. So, you might be a great guy or gal, but I wouldn’t believe you if you said there was a unicorn over there.

The second thing, is that the notion of a unicorn somewhere in the galaxy is weird, but it doesn’t go against any absolute. It’s not a contradiction, for example. We all agree, philosophers and theologians alike, that logic is one thing that is definitely an absolute. Contradictions cannot exist. If someone told you that he saw a door that was both open and closed, you know, you wouldn’t believe him: you’d think he went into Zen Buddhism or something. You wouldn’t use that as a fact.

So if any concept goes against logic, well, we have to reject it. Or goes against any other absolute, we have to reject it. An absolute is something that is NECESSARY for human life and human thought. Whatever our worldview is, we all share these absolutes, because they are necessary. Logic is necessary for thinking, and therefore for living, so we all have to accept it as a fact, regardless of whether we’re atheists, Christians, etc.

*****

Another absolute is meaning. A concept means something if we can identify it in reality. For example, you can say that a god is a being that “distims the gostashes”. Okay, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s a definition, but we can’t connect it to anything. It’s meaningless.

So if we’re going to talk about anything at all, it has to be meaningful. Otherwise we’re just talking gibberish.

NONCOGNITIVIST ARGUMENT

*****

I already talked about logic and why it’s an absolute. Now, if the existence of God contradicts logic, then we have a problem. If the existence of God makes illogic possible, then the existence of God is impossible.

MATERIALIST APOLOGETICS

Following this, we have to ask, why is my opponent debating the topic of the existence of God with me? Presumably, he is here because he freely chose to believe in God. But a choice is only possible if we have a principle that helps us find which option is the best. But if God exists, as we’ve seen, we can’t have any principles. No uniformity of nature, no principles.

ARGUMENT FROM CORRECT CHOICE

*****

Euthyphro Dilemma or Argument from the Necessity of Materialism would also fit very well in this approach.

*****

... Now, my opponent is going to give you arguments why his god exists. But these arguments are all irrelevant if the very notion of God is incoherent. In that case, we can agree with him that, yes, there might be something interesting in what he’s arguing, and there might be things we don’t know about, but God is not one of those. Science, rigorous objective thinking, gives us answers, not religion. To try to confuse the two will lead us nowhere. Thank you.

Of course, this is for more sophisticated debates. Debating at a lower level, one may like to start with comparing Christianity to, say, a religion founded on Brothers Grimm fables, and so on, asking what the difference is between such a faith and Christianity (comparing the absurdity of each), and pointing out that one does not believe in such things simply because one was not raised in a family or society that did. Talk about all the “dead gods”, the maxim “an atheist just disbelieves in one more god than you do”, about morality and purpose, etc…

The kind of topics I discuss on Graveyard of the Gods Ministry.

Last updated: January 1, 2005