Conclusion: debates rarely change minds

So I attended the debate put on at the University of Saskatchewan last night. For God’s side there was William Lane Craig, essentially a professional debater Campus (Crusade) for Christ calls up for these sorts of events on a regular basis. He’s been doing this with them since at least 1994 and his opening statement from then is the exact same spiel he parroted last night. It looks like he took bits of his old rebuttals and dusted them off as well. On atheism’s side sat Professor George Williamson from the U of S who debates maybe once a year, if that. Hardly a fair contest of skill and rhetoric in an arena, if I do say.

The batch of Saskatoon Freethinkers that attended amongst the massive crowd of bible school students and CC supporters from the university met up for beer later to talk about the debate and questions. I can’t rehash all they said, but I’ll list some of my beefs from last night.

Craig must have called George’s side “sheer speculation” three or four times and then gone on with his own conjectures like they were automatically valid. I remember he used that phrase when he tried to take apart George’s arguments against an all-knowing being and then made dubious claims about what he thinks god knows (only true things). As if that could ever be verified.

His argument about objective morality having to exist and only a god having the ability to create in us the ability to see that objective morality was also hard to swallow. I noticed him making some elitist remark about how belief in god gives him a better view of what’s right and good, elevates his ability to see the right and good. That’s not proof a god exists. That’s just his opinion of his own moral standing based on what he believes to be true.

His “Jesus rose from the dead means god exists” argument didn’t hold much water either. I need more than one book with a few lines written years after the event to prove a miraculous event happened. The gospels are only anecdotal evidence of a past event and some of what’s in them might even be exaggeration or even completely made up to make the story better. Talk of miraculous empty tombs and no proof people were body snatchers is not proof a god was involved. It’s just proof that people didn’t care enough about record keeping.

Later on during question period, someone asked him about the fine tuning of the universe stuff he mentioned and he backpedaled, “that’s not my phrase, that’s not my phrase, physicists use that…” to define the very narrow range of settings for this universe that made it possible for life to erupt on earth. Then tried to pretend he didn’t let us all assume he meant fine tuned like a designed piano, rather than fine as in grains of sand.

My favourite part was when a commenter got up and polled the audience about whether they believed in miracles and whether they’d read the bible and then said something like, isn’t it miraculous how that book has lasted 2011 years? George’s smart retort: the Epic of Gilgamesh is also old. For readers unfamiliar, it’s been suggested that parts of the bible were based on those earlier writings. Bible thumpers tend to freak out and disagree but you put those two books side by side and similarities pop out. It’s not inconceivable that early story tellers used the story of Gilgamesh as a starting point for their own morality tale about Noah.

Others of our group liked George’s attempts to argue about free will and god’s unwillingness to create a world where people would always have evil choices yet would always choose to do good. Couldn’t a god have done that instead? Couldn’t a god have created a world that had far less suffering in it? Couldn’t a god have created a better world that didn’t require we have compassion for the less fortunate because there would be no less fortunate? The very fact that he “chose” not to is proof enough that no god could be involved in the creation of humanity. Craig had to drag raping of little girls into it to prove his points that objective morality exists: nobody with morals will agree that’s a good thing, therefore there are objective morals therefore god exists.

If there is a sense of an objective morality, where all of us tend to think the same things are wrong all the time regardless of faith or beliefs or whatever.. that’s not proof a god had a hand in it. I think that’s only proof that humans have limits in terms of what’s preferred and not preferred, and those limits have a lot to do with our culture and our upbringing and the social structures we create. A god did not have to be involved in that. I don’t think a god inserted a soul in all of us to act like a morality chip making us all think the same about all things. We don’t. All you have to do is look at how many cultures and beliefs there are in the world and how varied the histories are in terms of what’s been acceptable behaviour over the years and what’s acceptable now.

Anyway, George was outgunned, that’s clear. I don’t think his arguments were well thought out in terms of how to prove a god wouldn’t be necessary for this universe to exist and we in it but again, he doesn’t make it his life’s mission trying to convince people that he’s right. Craig’s made a career out of this business.

Bottom line, it was everything I expected.

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