I will not be summarizing the debates or the talks from Skepticon 2 here. I'm going to take it for granted that you were there and state my follow up thoughts. Blogs that give better intros can be found elsewhere.
If I'd had the opportunity to address everything, I would have made a point to agree with the majority of Martin Monacell's opening. I'm assuming he was assuming that we'd argue bad things have happened
because of religion and therefore religion must go. Rather we argued that religious faith is a wild card in our culture that does as much harm as good, that we don't need it, and that it is probably false.
He seemed particularly interested in how secure his objective moral values are. It seems they completely lost this point when it was admitted by them in the question part that it really would suck to live in a world where people weren't moral and that we might have a point that this is a good enough reason to promote and condemn certain kinds of behaviors. Unfortunately I wasn't able to comment on the morality aspect since my job was to focus on the philosophical problems the theists had with naturalism. It would have been nice to curtail many of the things Ryan and JT said about evolution and morality. Kudos to DJ Grothe [see below] for picking up on it and giving his view of evolution and morality in his talk the next day.
It's a bit silly to keep trying to make something out of faith. Martin said as I recall that faith is the logical conclusion of doubt. Oh really? Because in normal person land, not believing something
is a perfectly legitimate conclusion when in doubt.
The second student theist, Patrick Shawhan, went a little bit more in depth. It is a bit annoying when they want to prove their worldview in just a different way and they use rhetoric like "God cannot be proven or disproven"
like a debate isn't technically over at that point. It's like oh boy, "Let the confusion begin!"
What they mean of course is they don't want to fork over certain cliche' kinds of evidence like divine footprints and fossils to show that God actually exists. Obviously they don't have any. Whatever they are going to present in well rounded thinker land
to show their worldview is more likely true than another is still
some kind of evidence.
They attack "evidentialism" making it seem at first glance to many science enthusiasts like they are anti-evidence. Of course, they have to clarify they aren't against science or evidence, but at that point most atheists are trying to figure out what in the world the issue is. I know my debate partner Ryan didn't get it. I know Victor Stenger in the next debate didn't get it when it came up again. I know a certain guy in the audience didn't get it when he asked Stenger what the hell the anti-evidentialism thing was all about. My girlfriend didn't get it and asked me a few times to re-clarify. I'm sure they are not alone. I had to go around explaining to people after the debate what the hell Shawhan was talking about because of how convoluted their approach is.
First of all, evidentialism isn't self refuting because its a tool and not a complete worldview. We can just drop the "ism" and note that to deny evidence is to simply deny all of human experience. To deny your own experience as valid is to make one wonder what in the world "valid" ever meant in the first place
. Doesn't mean every experience corresponds to reality, but it does mean every experience means something
. It may mean your brain is messed up or that you are hallucinating or high or something, but that's what critical thinking and cross checking is for. Even God can't validate his experience apart from his own experience as that is logically impossible. So even though there may be some kind of weakness there, it's just a weakness any conscious entity is saddled with in any event.
So who in their right mind is hypercritical of evidentialism? Probably people who don't have much in the way of evidence when they should have it. Christians are great at forgetting to take ownership of the fact their version of theism entails a number of normal (non-philosophical) claims that have already been heavily investigated and turned up negative. What about modern miracles? The efficacy of prayer? Creationism? Demon possession? Witchcraft? I think a typed out checklist should be submitted to Christians before the debate asking which of these Biblically endorsed magical claims they supposedly take seriously. [I'm probably going to do that next time.] So even if they have some philosophical point, if they drop the ball on all the "normal evidence" they are arguing for some other
So anyway, the other bit of confusion comes from the fact that neither team of theists was willing to say, "Thoughts are magic, therefore the anti-magic worldview must be false."
Then they might actually have to prove that thoughts and all things mental are actually magical. Naturally they can't do that and won't do that, but they will assert their incredulity and their conclusion all the while confusing every sensible person in the audience with their twisted way of approaching the debate. Every theist that goes there does that, because ya know, it just sounds so darn silly to just come out and say you think thoughts are magic. So they say everything but, and that confuses everyone.
Theists will bring up a dozen big issues that all revolve around their materialistic incredulity. Any one of them might take an entire debate to fully nail down, but that doesn't stop the avalanche.
Where does order come from?
Well where does God's order come from? I mentioned this one.
Reason can't be trusted if our minds are made of matter?
Computers made of matter run logical procedures all the time. Then the question is, what made our brains the way they are? No one refuted evolution. If one can believe that evolution calibrated our spleens to work with the rest of our body, then why can't we believe crafted our minds to process logical procedures? Martin made a quick pass on it, but I wasn't sure the ontological argument actually addresses evolution (he said something else too, but it was so quick, I didn't catch it). This is one of the topics that keeps unraveling to other issues very quickly. I was greatly misunderstood on this point as a result.
How does naturalism solve the problem of induction?
It doesn't. And as I pointed out in the debate, theism is trying to sell a fake induction insurance policy. How do we know whether God will change his mind? Aren't his ways infinitely above our heads? There go our inferences. How can we be sure his nature won't change? Or that his magic powers will work the same way tomorrow? Instead of having one unpredictable world, now we have even more unpredictable variables and are no better off.
How can we have free will if determinism is true?
Well when in the world did you ever pick your own desires and when have you ever done what you had literally no desire to do it? I mentioned this one, too. Free will means that your pre-determined desires are free to be unmolested by other agents. Oh noes! Determinism means you have to do what you want to do!
Matter can't be conscious, can't feel, or know beauty?
That's a fallacy of composition and I'll bet they think airplanes need to be made of the magical element flightium. I mentioned this one as well.
No inherent value to things?
Can't "inherent value" be the evolved mental convention of the experience of priorities? It's benign projection of a mental convention. Totally harmless unless you are a philosopher. :D
If there's a selective advantage to group cooperation, then the fittest folk are going to find themselves with altruistic tendencies even if occasionally that drives some individual descendants to die for someone else Jesus style. As long as most in the population aren't doing that (and I think that's obvious), this isn't a detriment to the population overall. I know. It's soooo complicated.
It was interesting to see the theist team concede that a physical world could have an infinite past. That nullifies the popular Kalam argument. Oopsie. William Lane Craig is going to have to spank you.
My three arguments: 1)
No one addressed the incoherency of immaterial objects. Most of the arguments for God and against naturalism turn on the supposed differences immaterialism brings to the table of options. Oh well. I win. :D2)
It was also said that Jesus was the solution to my second argument that a timeless deity is frozen solid and unable to act. But Jesus is not the solution, because that would mean that the Lord's prayer was addressed to no one who could hear it. That's a denial of at least one person in the trinity, yo. I win again! :D3)
And I think their solution to the logical problem of evil I presented was that Jesus died for our sins. Damage control is hardly an excusable plan for the most moral agent ever. I win x's 3! Yay!
I didn't keep track of JT and Ryan's arguments or whether they got responses. Too many tangents already. Honestly, six different people with different approaches, and different arguments with limited time to address dozens of issues which are each bigger than the entire debate. Eek!
I wrote down a dozen questions to ask the theists. Here they are from my notes:
1. How does evidentialism mean our memories (for example) are not evidence?
2. In all of our other relationships good communication is generally considered to be the litmus test of health. Why is it that God "communicates" with us in ways that can be so easily interpreted away? Do you think that anyone here at this debate will be able to convince themselves years later that you did not exist? And what does that say about a moral agent who fails to effectively communicate?
3. How does the "hard problem" of consciousness account for the success to the solution of the "easy problem?" In other words, if magic is the solution to the hard problem, why do we even need to have an organ that is "miraculous in complexity?" And is that why you left your brain on the table there?
4. What do you think the end result of something like Henry Markham's Blue Brain project will be? Will all of those zillions of processors working together just not end up doing much of anything?
5. So God's creative powers are not magic? Is God a spiritual machine or are you throwing us a red herring?
6. Isn't qualia, if magic, proof of qualia? If God as an ad hoc arbitrary entity that exists as is for no reason whatsoever with its bizarre magical properties is kosher, then why not just qualia as a slightly supernatural worldview?
7. Why can't survival sometimes entail group cooperation? Does the saying "together we stand, divided we fall" have no practical implications?
8. How is the intention to test different explanations for the origin of the universe "equally credulous?" How many scientists do you know that go to church on Sunday to worship their favorite multiverse hypothesis?
9. Why should we believe a Christian could convince Hitler to not go all Hitler on the Jews? And why didn't you lose this debate according to Godwin's law?
10. Does your moral theory pass Richard Carrier's "desire based" test? Can you pitch the Christian moral paradigm without founding it on desires? If you can, then why should we care about it? If not, then why are you criticizing Carrier's view?
11. To Victor Stenger: You can imagine nothing? Really?
Can you pleeeeeese stop talking nao?
Epic low point of the debate was when Victor Stenger told a panel of scientists to read a science book. What a dick.
My favorite JT point was his senus leprechaunis
JT's talk on "Why do we criticize religion?"
was pretty solid. Some of his rhetoric was a little convoluted, but I understood what he was trying to say.
P. Z. Myers talked about the "Backlash Against the New Atheists." He had some interesting analogies from the biological world. Unfortunately, his argument justifying the different strategies for atheism (in-your-face vs. the diplomatic approach) plausibly suffers from being an argument from analogy that doesn't necessarily apply. Afterward I asked him if he would take up the diplomatic approach if we could empirically demonstrate that more converts are acquired. Suspiciously, he avoided answering. :D
Otherwise, it was an entertaining talk. Too much killer whale and elephant cock though.
I appreciate that DJ Grothe swapped out his talk about the future of skepticism to focus on evolution and morality. "Darwin Made Me Do It." I agree with him that it was needed (even though I would rather have listened to his other talk) and agreed with about 95% of what he said.
The disagreement is over interpreting what he has said. If the goal of morality is our well being (in all the ways DJ described throughout his talk), then evolution is responsible for setting that up and if we knew absolutely everything about it, then (hypothetically) we could actually get our moral ought from evolution. The problem with sequestering individual aspects about what evolution set up (like pleasure) to reject them as moral mandates, is that we are only sequestering one individual aspect. On its own, obviously we can't just obey anything evolution craps out.
DJ's eventual solution was critical thinking and I agree, but critical thinking about what? We don't just think about nothing, we think about all the things DJ spent rejecting the entire talk. Take happiness for example. If morality isn't about happiness, then why do I give a crap about this "well being" stuff? Who wants to be set up to live, but only in misery? I think that's called torture.
We have to reign in all
the elements evolution bequeathed on us with and naturally from our perspective critical thinking is the best way to figure out what constitutes a well rounded, balanced and long term sense of well being. But that doesn't mean evolution didn't inadvertently distill an ideal mental state that we are trying to synthesize ourselves (in terms of discovery) with that critical thinking. I just hate the negate, negate, negate tactic, when the speaker really wants to be saying, "think bigger with these things in mind."
Victor Stenger's talk on "The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason
" was boring. He wasted way too much time clarifying one or two points (trying to define and explain "nothing") from the debate and getting it wrong. He's no philosopher and should
stick to explicitly scientific claims.
Robert Price's talk on "The Gospels and Thorough-going Skepticism"
was decent. He's got some charisma which makes him entertaining to listen to. I especially liked his anti-monster presuppositionalism point.
Joe Nickell's talk on "Investigating the Paranormal"
was one of the best of the event. I believe that the classroom version of it should be mandatory for all public school children.
Dan Barker had the other worst talk of the day. "A Book of (Bad) Numbers."
He literally spent like 10 minutes describing the shape of a bathtub from the Bible. His "helpful tips" only apply to like the KJV only fundamentalist crowd which is like fringe of the fringe. I'm not even sure I've met someone like that. lol, he even said he was withholding some of the material and saving it for an article he was writing. Couldn't you have withheld a little more, Dan? hehe JT talked Barker up as the very best, and low and behold this talk sucked royally. Apparently Barker needed a piano to put on his A material, but apparently he doesn't have much in between A and F.
Richard Carrier's talk on "Where the Hell Is Jesus!? Weird Stuff from the Gospels to the Apostles"
was pretty entertaining. Not sure, but I think he got in the most vulgar language and solicited the most laughs of anyone.
PZ's round two on "A Few Things I've Learned About Creationists" was good. I feel his pain.
Rebecca Watson's talk on "Why Chicks Matter" was heavy, but good. Seems to me more skeptics could have been connecting more explicitly to important issues of the day, rather than just briefly mentioning them. Although I suppose JT did the most in that regard.
I had a great time. I was impressed I was able to sit through so many talks in one day. Oh yeah, and if I criticized you, don't worry. I still love you. *hugs* It seems as though I've been recruited to speak at a spin-off event in Joplin, MO sometime. I'll be ready!