My Opening Statements Against Dinesh D'Souza and David Wood

Regardless of how you think my recent debates went, what do you think of my opening statements against Dinesh and David? First check them out: Contra D'Souza, and Contra Wood.


John W. Loftus said...

Stay focused people. The question is not who won these debates but rather what you think of my arguments.

Brad said...

Hi John,

I didn't see anything new or compelling here in your arguments against Dinesh's book. Since the day job is getting in the way of a long post let me point out one argument:

"If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the amount of massive suffering in this world is as close to an empirical refutation of the Christian concept of God as is possible. If God exists then like a good parent he would not allow us to abuse the freedom he gave us."

These are ancient arguments and how you accuse Dinesh of not arguing anything new in his presentation of Christianity and then argue the above is kind of confusing.

Again, the day job prevents a long post, but a one sentence answer from me would be: For every evil there most be a corresponding good, so then who gets credit for the good? Is there more good than evil in the world?

Brad said...

Okay, two sentence..

John W. Loftus said...

Brad your question is irrelevant. The question I posed has nothing to do with whether there is more good than evil in the world. Rather it's about why there is so much massive suffering in the world. We'd expect some good things, ya see. But why all of the carnage?

Walter said...

Any good to be found in the word--well praise Jesus.

All the pain and suffering found in this world--God works in mysterious ways, or man brought it on himself for letting himself get tempted in the Garden.

This is the reasoning that I keep getting from the pious.

Believers want to have it both ways. They claim that God is "mysterious" and we cannot fathom why he does some things, then they will turn around and tell me that everything that God does is for a higher moral purpose that we would understand if we had God's perspective. My question is: How would they know? If God is beyond our understanding he might have a morally evil purpose for doing everything he does. (this usually kicks off an Euthyphro debate)

Paul claims that Satan masquerades as an angel of light; how do believers know that Yahweh is not masquerading as an angel of light?

Jim Thompson said...

John, off topic but hope you could help.

Mike D. (The AUnicornist) blog comments are broken. Maybe he will see it here or maybe you have his email.

Richard H said...

They are excellent for written pieces, especially if the audience has access to google. You touch on a lot of arguments and do a good job giving them a brief discussion.

However, they're a bit long for 15 or 20 minute spoken introductions. There just isn't time to insert pauses after major points. Doing this is important because it emphasizes major points, and lets the audience digest what they're hearing.

I'd also reduce the number of points included in a spoken introduction. It might be possible to get people to remember 2 or 3 really good points. More than that, and they'll start getting lost.
From the D'Sousa debate specifically,

I’m going to offer several arguments based on facts we should all agree on that show the Christian God does not exist. My claim is that these facts will force Dinesh into arguing over and over for what I’ll call the Dumb and Dumber Defense, based on the movie with that title starring Jim Carrey. In every single case Dinesh’s response will be pretty much the same. Rather than admit his faith is improbable, he will be forced to claim that what he’s defending is still possible despite these facts. But remember, it’s possible that Jim Carrey could’ve gotten the girl of his dreams in the movie too. The girl said he had a “one in a million” chance at doing so.

My immediate problem with this is that you've already conceded that there is a Christian god. There are several different, contradictory versions. It also seems to concede the coherency of the concept. Make your opponent specify which of the christian gods he thinks exists.

I do like that you mentioned appeal to ignorance straight off. But, I'm not sure about labeling it 'Dumb and Dumber'.

I would drop the 'one in a million' reference entirely. Romantic comedies have rare events happen continually, and a theist could just think, "Yeah, it is unlikely, but it happens to be true."

And, at some point in the intro, I might mention the differece between a concept and a thing, but that's probably a personal preference.

I went through the rest of the debate as well, but I'm well over the 4096 character limit, and understand if you don't want mega-comments.

John W. Loftus said...

Keep in mind Richard H, that although they were first spoken debates in front of live audiences, this is no longer the case. For now people can watch them and read my opening statements and think through them as you are now doing.

John W. Loftus said...

And I might add, more people will watch these debates on YouTube and read my opening statements than were in those lives audiences.

Brad said...

Brad your question is irrelevant. The question I posed has nothing to do with whether there is more good than evil in the world. Rather it's about why there is so much massive suffering in the world. We'd expect some good things, ya see. But why all of the carnage?

Hi John,

Actually the question(s) is/are very much in play should Scripture provide us a sufficient answer for why human evil and the corresponding human suffering that is the response to that evil cannot be imputed to God, nor can God be faulted for permitting humans to suffer for violating the cause-effect relationship to his laws. And I think Scripture does answer here sufficiently. So if Scripture can be shown to provide a sufficient answer, than your “problem of evil” has its own corresponding “problem of good.” God’s goodness remains while he interacts with an evil humanity suffering the consequences of their own actions and works to redeem it through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As a former Christian, I presumed that you were aware of these arguments.

Going forward in thought, N.T. Wright sums up the fundamental concern that Christians have when considering the reasonableness of Atheism, and as to whether or not the worldview posits a credible answer to the problem itself:

“We might start with the age-old question: The Christian has to deal with ‘the problem of evil,’ but the atheist has to deal with ‘the problem of good’ – that is, if the world is completely random, a chance collocation of accidental atoms, why is there such a thing as beauty, as value? (A hint: Dawkins’ valiant attempt to say it’s all about selfish genes and memes and things really doesn’t answer the question.)

"And the atheist needs to be invited to contemplate the negative results, as well as the apparently positive ones, of the great push towards atheism in the last two centuries: the French Revolution, as soon as it got rid of God, did quite a lot of killing, including of its own people – a funny thing, that, considering the Enlightenment was supposed to be a way of getting rid of religion and so getting rid of violence. See too, the massive negative results of the greatest experiments in atheism the world has ever seen – the USSR with its Gulag, and Mao’s China . . .”

In essence, the counter concern is that skeptics can’t just blame shift the problem without also examining their own core holdings in relation to both good and evil, because their explanations for why God doesn’t exist also threatens to explain away their explanations for the same problems – unless, of course, they are willing to be satisfied with the answer that a “cosmic, unguided accident” is a sufficient answer to these problems.

Richard H said...

if the world is completely random, a chance collocation of accidental atoms, why is there such a thing as beauty, as value?

Beauty isn't a thing. It's a concept. Same with value.

This is why people can disagree about what objects are most attractive. They're not mis-estimating an objects beauty coefficient. They're just experiencing different feelings.

Scott said...

Hello John,

I think these are great arguments. However, as Brad illustrates, theists have "answers" to these arguments which Christians seem to find satisfying. It seems the key question here is why do we find them dissatisfying while Brad does not?

Specifically, there appears to be a significant disconnect in what makes a good explanation vs. what makes a bad explanation. We've come to reject theistic arguments while theists continue to accept them. Furthermore, if we apply the same criteria that Brad accepts to the claims of other religions, they appear to be "good" explanations as well. However, Brad rejects them regardless. So, it seems the key difference appears to be exactly what criteria we use to determine what makes for a good explanation and when that criteria should be applied.

Personally, I think it boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem solving process, as many Christians still seem to think Christianity is the best solution to their problems.

For example, many people lack experience in solving problems where the answer is non-obvious or complex in nature. This is often because they simply are not exposed to these scenarios on a regular basis. As such, they simply lack the practical skills necessary to discern good explanations bad explanations.

I'd consider whether God exists or not to be one of these questions, to which many people are simply unequipped to answer.

In addition, we seem to disagree on what it means to "solve" a problem and how to identify which problem are we're really trying to solve in the first place?

For example, I've encountered Christians who seem to think God allows suffering so we'll realize how much we are dependent on him. But this implies that…

A. Human beings which are insufficiently aware of their dependence on God is a "problem" for someone (exactly who, God?)
B. This is such an important problem (again for who?) that the suffering of human beings is somehow justified in solving it
C. The suffering that human beings experience actually solves the problem.

But, exactly how is the lack of knowledge about how dependent human being are on God a problem and for who?

First, if God was all knowing, then he would know exactly how dependent we are on him. Nor would or lack of knowledge about how dependent we were on God make us more or less dependent in reality. And if God is really timeless and unchanging, then nothing we can do or say will change what God had originally planed to do, even if we're aware of said supposed dependence.

So, it would appear that this is a non-solution to a non-problem!

In fact, I'd say the real problem the theist was trying to solve is why people suffer. And to do so, they created a problem where none really exists in which suffering was the supposedly "answer."

Scott said...

Brad wrote: Actually the question(s) is/are very much in play should Scripture provide us a sufficient answer for why human evil and the corresponding human suffering that is the response to that evil cannot be imputed to God, nor can God be faulted for permitting humans to suffer for violating the cause-effect relationship to his laws.

Brad, Initially, I had planned to ask you why you thought this was a good explanation to the gratuitous amount of suffering we observe.

Instead, I'll ask what would be a logically possibly, yet bad explanation for the suffering we observe given a supernatural God. Last, I'd ask why you thought it was a "bad" explanation, compared to the supposedly "good" explanation you gave earlier in this thread.

Scott said...

I wrote: I'd consider whether God exists or not to be one of these questions, to which many people are simply unequipped to answer.

What do I mean by this? For example, God supposedly exists, but is unseen.

But how often does the average person interact with unseen beings? What experience do they have with determining the nature of unseen things?

Surely, we have enough difficulty understanding and reaching accurate conclusions about people we know and see on a daily basis. And this process becomes more increasingly difficult with people we only see occasionally or only know though phone conversations or via email. Of course, even in the most extreme cases, we know these people are, well, people, which gives us a basic foundation to work with. Despite this fact, we're wrong quite often.

And then there are celebrities and politicians we see on TV. How well do we actually know them? We often find out we didn't have a clue when some scandal breaks in the news, which destroys the idealistic view we might have had created about them.

However, there isn't any "outlet" for which "breaking news" can keep the theist's conception of God in check.

In fact, we don't have any track record at all in accurately determining whether non-material beings exist - let alone accurately determine what demands they might make of us.

Godlessons said...

I do have to agree that the lack of properly placed pauses gives the listener difficulty in contemplating your arguments. Just at the time you make one point, you move on to the next, and it makes it hard to remember, much less understand what it is you are saying.

I know there is a time limit, and you have much to say in that time limit, but maybe it isn't as much the quantity of questions you pose, but the quality that should be observed. If you notice, WLC generally keeps his points to 5, much like most Craig clones. This seems like a good number. What number did you have against David Wood? Like 7 or 8 I think.

Also, I think pinning people down on the ontology of their claims is a good thing. The Euthyphro dilemma is ignored by many theists, because they think that God being moral because it is his nature is a good argument. They fail to explain why God must be moral when it seems just as plausible that he could be immoral. This problem of assuming that God is the primary source for a thing, as well as the idea that evil is the absence of good, is never attacked, and therefore it remains a main type of argument that theists still use.

Anyway, I have already said way too much in one post. What I can say is to keep debating. Eventually you will get to a point where you feel more comfortable with it and you will refine your style.

Daniel said...

Look, John, can you do some media training? I am a Christian who does media traning and debating and I felt sooo bad for you in that debate. It is probably about $1000 a day and will pay off immeasurably in repeat offers from TV, radio etc. and flow on to book sales.

Now, given you are a former pastor, you never even thought to build some rapport with your audience. Why? You studied this stuff for years, yet you act as if this is the first time you have ever talked about it. Strange.

And, really, the problem of evil should haunt any believer, but you burst into a discussion of the Trinity and sound like a Jehovah's Witness and think it will score points. Have you lost your mind? Play to the crowd, you are not unlike them, remind them, but for this and that you might be them still. . . well, you add what that was.

What most theists can't abide is atheists pretending belief in a necessary being omni times 3 (or maybe less if you are a process guy) is the same as belief in a teapot around Mars or a flying spaghetti monster. To persists with this argument says more about the debater than the topic. Why lump Thomas Jefferson with Pat Robertson? It's bizarre.

Same with the cosmological stuff. Don't quote Stenger if you can't properly defend him. It's nuts.

Basically, there is lots of evidence of design, as your friend explained when he said: If you are an atheist and aren't kept awake with the design argument, you are not considering it; and if you are a theist and not kept awake thinking about the problem of evil, you haven't thought about it properly.

Like others have said, too many ideas and no time to pause and consider the implications. Get one or two good ones and make em stick.

You know, I hate D'Souza and his right wing shit, but he has dissed you and Hitchens quite well so far. And I liked it. But I just hope he has a conversion one day, too.

Daniel said...

I just posted this and it vanished. Suffice to say, John, you should do a day or two of media training. $2000 will be worth it if you can do a good sound bite.

Also, you were a pastor who ostensibly studied this stuff and you never wanted to build rapport with the audience? Why? You go off dissing the Trinity like a Jehovah's Witness and think it will help you case? You cannot be serious. No one has any problem with the Trinity or the Logic of God Incarnate after Thomas Morris, why waste your time sounding like a sckeptic who never understood religion when you could be a fellow believer who let doubt take a little too much control?

Debating 101. Build rapport!

Daniel said...

why don't my comments appear? is there a moderator? weird! this is the fourth time.

Shane said...

John, not a lot of time here, but I've just finished listening to the debate with D'Souza on mp3. I thought your opening statement was excellent, but kinda got the impression that you were a wee bit bamboozled after D'Souza came back. The format of the debate was a bit painful, with so many rebuttal/counter-rebuttal slots, but one thing about D'Souza was that he rarely if ever addressed your (or the questioners') actual points, but rather went off on a pre-rehearsed spiel.

He talks well - like a politician - but his arguments are *terrible*. I enjoyed him taking full credit for Habermas's 4-points-of-the-resurrection gambit, and I think you spotted a chink there.

There will be a Next Time, and I think my advice would be to carefully analyse D'Souza's stratagems in this debate - don't let him away with changing the subject; don't let him away with the "inference to best explanation" nonsense - the best explanation of the events of the resurrection is that persons unknown moved the body. There WERE no Roman guards (only in Matthew, and he's an embellisher of Mark); there WAS no earthquake; the Romans did not have the body - they gave it to the family after Jesus died. The tomb was not permanently sealed - it was a temporary holding place for the body to get the Shabbat out of the way. Indeed, you can use the gospels to blow the resurrection out of the water.

Another thing - you did let him lead you away a bit with the "singularity" business. I think Stephen Hawking probably does rank as a cosmologist, and Roger Penrose is a marvellous genius. But D'Souza twisted that one around to get in a "quantum" gag. This was dishonest, but difficult to come back at - he was firing off nonsense 13 to the dozen.

I think for anyone taking on D'Souza or the other theists on the "debate" circuit, listening to this would be a great learning point. Your points were excellent and well made, but D'Schmooza is like a slug you're trying to stamp on with your welly. Hard to pin down.

Good work though - to people who care about substance rather than panache, you have the right arguments. Respect!

[I'll see if I can put up a response some time on ]

mathyoo said...

I finally got around to to listening to the debate, and overall I think your arguments were sound when you were presenting ideas first. Your arguments responding to D'Souza need some work, though. He's a very experienced debater and like William Lane Craig, a master of throwing out logical fallacies knowing that he can throw you on the defensive and force you to respond to an argument that's obviously fallacious. Like William Lane Craig, he seems to favor the Argument from Ignorance and demands that before you can prove the Christian god does not exit, you must first prove that your own theory is correct. He also likes to poison the well (what the hell was the comment about the hat?). I caught quite a few red herrings and strawmen, too. I think rather than trying to argue against his points, you might want to just point out the logical fallacies in his arguments.