A Review of My Debate with Matt Dillahunty

*Originally posted 7 Nov 2015. Updated 10 Dec 2015.

So, How did the debate Go?”

People keep asking me about how the debate went, and each time I’m at a loss for words. Reviewing a whole debate is laborious and dodgy. That debate took a lot of concentrated thought and my experience of it is blurry, hurried, and busy. But I’d say, overall, it was a success. Matt was Matt, with no great surprises in his methodology or claims. And, as expected, he largely if not entirely failed to reconcile my lines of argument with atheism. Meanwhile, his counterclaims/arguments weren’t terribly effective at overwhelming and outweighing my position.

The Setting

It was 7pm Wednesday night (4 Nov 2015). The venue was Austin Peay University (Clarksville, TN), in Clement auditorium. The auditorium seated about 600 people and was pretty close to full, and might have been full. Some folks were standing in the back, but it was hard to tell because of the blind-spot from the stage lighting. We had a full sized performing stage, complete with curtains, podium, 10 foot (?) projection screen, and two tables. The sponsors for the event were the Philosophy Department, the Philosophy Club and the Secular Humanist Club. I owe personal thanks to Phillip Christie, the president of the Philosophy Club. He did a most all the leg work to make this event possible. He took me out to eat. And he was my ride while I was there. He’s a pretty cool guy too. And his wife was sweet as tea. I was honored to meet the different professors, sponsors, and various contributors who made this event happen. Thank you all!

Matt DillahuntyHow was Matt? Matt deserves congratulations for keeping me on my toes, and for offering some intelligent and thoughtful argumentation on his side. He also maintained good composure, high energy, and amiability throughout the debate. He may have a snarky and aggressive side–I probably do too–but he has been overall friendly and respectful towards me. I have no complaints regarding his personality and manners. He and I were able to talk at dinner Wednesday night, and again at the airport the next morning. So I have reason to think that wasn’t just an act. He enjoys vigorious dialogue, doesn’t shy away from disagreements, has deep convictions about truth, and yet he can maintain his composure. We may disagree royally, and we might not see eye-to-eye on many issues, but we have had some gracious and entertaining exchanges. Hopefully, the audience could feel a sense of comradery, sincerity, and respect even as we debated.

That said, I have some stiff critiques against his overall case. He himself was witty and respectful, but his arguments-upon further reflection–had some real problems.

Critiques

First, Matt largely ignored the force of my arguments.

Matt left my main three argument as “drops.” He mentioned them in his rebuttal, but was dismissive and not substantive. Instead of showing my arguments to be invalid or any of my premises false, he instead ignored the premises and just dismissed their conclusions. But that’s not how it works. If you disagree with the argument you need to show how the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises, or that one or more of the premises is flawed. You can’t just ignore the premises and take issue with the conclusion as if I were asking for some blind leap, trusting that conclusion without any supporting argument. In formal debate settings, those drops count as points in favor of my position.

In the debate, I argued that atheists tend to imply supernaturalism even as they propose and argue for atheism. It was a novel tactic as far as I’m aware. The three lines of evidence I utilized were: (1) moral facts, (2) science–and specifically irreducible goal-directed features within the practice of science, and (3) consciousness. Each of these, I argue, point back to a fundamentally non-mechanical set of causes which are categorically distinct from material nature. It’s not like we’re talking about property such as “triangle-shaped,” or “red-colored;” those aren’t hard to account for in material terms. But consciousness, intentional attitudes of “goal-directedness,” and moral “oughtness,” are all distinct categories from mechanistic material nature. Since these are categorically inexplicable according to atheistic naturalism, yet they exist, then atheistic naturalism is false. Hence supernaturalism, by default, is true.

Notice, I didn’t say simply that these lines of evidence are just ‘difficult to explain’ for naturalism and then proceed into an argument from ignorance (as Matt characterized it). I pointed out that naturalism, by all appearances, is committed to a category mistake, proposing that “oughtness” or “aboutness” (for example) are physical properties. These non-physical qualities are logically incompatible with a strictly physical/natural universe, yet they exist, hence there exists more than just this physical/natural universe.

Second, Matt missed the mark when he criticized the different brands of theism for their apparent conflict.

I did not defend Christian theism, or any particular theism specifically, but instead offered evidence towards broad supernaturalism. It is sufficient to falsify naturalism if all those kinds of theism are wrong, yet supernaturalism is still true.

By limiting my case to supernaturalism broadly, I found, as is the case with any debating tactic, that this approach has some strengths and some weaknesses. It can look evasive and non-committal. It can even be interpreted, though it’s a stretch, as a concession that my particular brand of theism (Christianity) is indefensible. But the great strength to this tactic is that I don’t have to defend particular brands of theism—brands which I can readily admit are prone to disagreement. It’s no fault of theology that it’s methods afford only a limited degree of precision or cognitive certainty. Every field of study has it’s own respective degree of precision that can be reasonably expected for that field. We can get very precise and certain knowledge in math and logic, but can’t get as much precision or certainty in practical ethics, or theology, aesthetics, or psychology. As I stated in the debate, it’s the clarification fallacy to fault an argument for failing to achieve some arbitrary level of clarity.

Matt attempted to rebut the “clarification fallacy” but didn’t seem to understand how his rejoinder was still arbitrary. My argued position is indifferent towards the many conflicting god-beliefs, and he hasn’t shown that my position requires any particular committment to a single god-concept. My aim was more simple: falsify atheism, thus verifying theism broadly. I had no aim to mediate the many fickle fueds over particular brands of theism.

Dillahunty’s defense here is something like, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” My response to that position? I offered three lines of extraordinary evidence, literally, since the mechanistic materialistic measures admitted by atheism have only material causes as the “ordinary” evidence whereas I offered three immaterial lines of evidence as proof that atheism/naturalism fail. Hence I offered “extra-ordinary” evidence for the “extra-ordinary” claim of “God exists.”

Third, Dillahunty likes to demand “falsifiable demonstration” of theological claims.

This point isn’t necessarily wrong, but Dillahunty handles it poorly. Dillahunty seems to think that theological claims like “God exists,” must have a comparable level of public demonstration/experimentation/empirical observation as, for example, modern science–before anyone can reasonably believe such a claim. He’s reluctant to commit himself here.

Matt likes to exploit skeptical wiggleroom any time he might be said to “believe” something he might later regret. Whenever I offered alternatives to scientific testing he swatted them away as if that’s fairy tales or bald conjecture. Yet elsewhere, he’s claimed a high view of philosophy–and that would allow some way to “test” a theological claim without submitting to the methodological naturalism normal to modern science. But here he demonstrated a low view of philosophy.

I cited that very debate as an example of epistemically valid, but non-scientific, method of discovery. If debates can happen, and they can lend at least some improved access to truth, then there are other means besides strict science or science-like measures for testing claims related to supernature.

Fourth, Matt’s exclusive/narrow preference for science-like demonstrations constitute a loaded assumption on his part.

He stated it in various ways, and then restated it in more ways, yet he never really defended this positioning regarding a science-like demonstration of God’s existence. If I offered something non-scientific he faulted it for not being rigorous enough for science (though many known things fail to satisfy that criteria). But if I were to use science directly he’d fault me for importing theology into the natural sciences.

Meanwhile, he’d do well to show that his high value for scientific sorts of verification is a legitimate and fair standard of measure for theological claims. I don’t think he’d say this, because he’d immediately recognize how this logic defeats itself. Science deals with natural objects, theology deals with supernatural objects (roughly speaking). Nevertheless, after three different debates with him this sort of “science-way or the highway” thinking certainly seems to be his default operating assumption for testing claims.

Nevertheless, we can respond by saying that different things are known in different degrees and different ways. It’s no fault of theology or philosophy if we come to know about God in ways that aren’t strictly parallel to the methods of modern science. God can be known, for example, through a broad cumulative case method using data from the sciences (such as Big Bang Cosmology, Genetics, Fine tuning, etc.), logical first principles, ethical first principals, Ockham’s razor, self-referential tests (i.e., is X internally consistent?), direct intuition/awareness, inferences from effects to a sufficient causal explanations, etc. etc. Matt might be bothered when we step outside of a strictly naturalistical model of evidentialism, yet he never showed that his strict demands for science-styled evidentialism are suitable or warranted when dealing with a (potentially) supernatural entity.

Fifth, there’s a circular undercurrent to Matt’s case.

Matt has a clever way of demanding evidence for God’s existence yet only allowing natural causes and effects into consideration. In essence, he seems to be more open minded than he really is. Matt is smart enough (at least this time around) to avoid demanding a strictly scientific proof of God’s existence. He acknowledges that methodological naturalism prevents scientists from directly addressing supernatural questions. So when he asks for a falsifiable method of testing claims like “God exists,” it sounds like he’s being fair and rigorous in his skepticism. But the trick is, he doesn’t admit any supernaturalistic alternatives as potentially valid causal accounts. In our past debate, he extended a batch dismissal of the many billions of supernaturalists. His justification? Well, billions of people can be wrong. Well, that’s true, billions of people might be wrong. But why should we assume that they are wrong? Strictly logical possibility is the weakest evidence of actuality. Meanwhile, we’d consider it a pretty powerful line of evidence if billions of people agreed on something else. So why dismiss that testimonial evidence so casually here, on the subject of God’s existence? Matt is inconsistent here. He demands we offer evidence, but when we offer evidence he dismisses it. His rubric for evaluating evidence is so stilted towards naturalism that only naturalistic accounts are allowed as valid evidence.

Sixth, Matt seems to ascribe an astronomically low probability to God’s existence

This “low probability” might be justified given some evidence and argument on his part except he asserts that he doesn’t know whether God exists and treats naturalistic explanations as intrinsically more probable. If he doesn’t know whether God exists, then how does he know that God’s existence is so highly unlikely? Matt is clever enough to avoid getting nailed down to this characterization, but after having debated Matt for the third time, it’s quite clear that Matt affirms both claims: “We can’t tell whether God exists” and “There is an astronomically low probability that God exists.” He feigns an open-minded sort of negative atheism (“lacking theism), but underneath that surface is a committed positive atheist (“There is no God”). He enjoys the tactical benefit of having “No burden of proof” (negative atheism has no burden of proof since it’s not making an existential claim). But he believes/presumes knowledge that God does not exist. He tries to parse these two positions out in terms of “belief” versus “knowledge.” There’s a popular level distinction between “gnostic/agnostic” (knowing whether God exists) and “theistic/atheistic (not/believing God exists) but this nomenclature is novel, modern, and is confused in its terms. People who follow that nomenclature will thoroughly confuse themselves if they read that terminology into philosophy and religious journal articles, or into research level books which treat Gnostics as an (originally) 2nd century pseudo-christian cult. Meanwhile, agnosticism was coined in the 19th century and refers to the lack of justified/warranted/reasonable true belief in God’s existence. That lack of knowledge about God always entailed lack of belief in God. Likewise, lack of belief in God always entails lacking knowledge that God exists. Matt likes to assume an extremely low probability for God’s existence so that he can trump it, in turn, by ascribing a higher probability to even the most absurd naturalistic account. Using this tactic, Matt can rest easy and unchallenged. So long as any unlikely or absurd naturalistic alternative can be mustered, supernaturalism loses every argument every time.

Seventh, Matt errs in saying, “I may not know, but neither do you.”

Matt employs a rhetorically powerful but quite sincere statement about how he’s not claiming to know a lot about the certain ultimate/grand-scale/important issues like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of mind, and so on. This tactic is rhetorically powerful because it’s honest, humble, and winsome. But his typical follow-up is that, “I may not know, but neither do you.” Here Matt commits an epistemic error. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we both are ignorant about how the world began. If Matt doesn’t know what kind of cause could have generated the universe then he faces a boundary problem. The limits of our knowledge can be thought of as a boundary. If we don’t know what’s on the other side, beyond our knowledge, then we can’t knowingly tell someone else they are right or wrong in their claims about the same mysterious beyond. Matt says he doesn’t know what started the universe; I claim to know. He’s admitted ignorance about that realm so he cannot be, at the same time, looking knowingly into that mysterious beyond to determine that I’m wrong about it. If he doesn’t know, then he doesn’t know whether I’m right or wrong about it. This boundary problem has a potential “escape route.” But I’ll leave it for Matt to discover. So far, he doesn’t seem to know where the escape hatch is for this problem.

Eighth, my opening statement directly rebutted his most repeated claim.

Matt tried, several times, to claim that I have no reliable falsifiable method of testing supernatural claims. Oddly enough, my opening statement was just that: a falsifiable argument for supernaturlaism. I pointed out phenomena readily granted by atheists but which are categorically distinct from the entire set of natural causes and effects. Since naturalism lacks any categorical access to such phenomena, yet these things exist, then atheistic naturalism is false. Conversely, supernaturalism is true. This argument is philosophical, proceeding by a cumulative case of ideas implicit and explicit. It requires little in the way of theology, and can be falsified if atheists could offer some way to bridge from strictly natural causes into the (apparently) immaterial categories of mind, teleology, and moral oughtness. Perhaps he does not know how the mature and well-worn landscape of naturalistic atheism entails direct challenges to these readily apparent phenomena: hence the existence of things like nihilism, absurdism, and eliminative materialism. If he could show these sorts of options to be somehow academically viable then he could falsify my claim. But it is not my job to point out to him where he could attack my argument. It’s his job to find that out. Meanwhile, he offered no alternative account from nature that could show that such phenomena (as mind, purpose, and moral facts) is even possible in naturalism. He rested content assuming that such things were not only possible, not only likely, not only plausible but were indeed actual. Yet he offered nothing in the way of demonstration so that the audience and I could responsibly agree with him there.

Ninth, Matt’s opening statement redoubled his straw-man conception of theism.

Matt’s characterization of theism literally included Santa Clause, Fairies, Sasquatch, and Alien Abductions. That stuff might sound smart when preaching to choirs of internet atheists and amateur skeptics but it’s childish and silly when stated in formal debate. In serious conversations within metaphysics, epistemology, philosophical theology, and so on those sort of references are a distraction from serious theological debate. By “going there” Matt seems insincere and/or unfamiliar with the substantial academic work surrounding the God-concept. Maybe Matt has studied extensively the works of Plantinga, Anselm, Craig, Aquinas, Augustine, or Swinburne. But his methods and evidence in this debate didn’t show it. There are mature atheistic critiques of theism; but Matt did no such thing Wednesday night. It seems that Matt does not take the concept of God seriously. At one point he admitted as much so he could make a rhetorical point. He said, “I don’t take the concept of God very seriously because I previously took it seriously for too long.” To be precise here, I don’t doubt that Dillahunty sincerely adhered to Christian theism in his earlier years and he sincerely tried to be a good Christian, and he sincerely tried to defend the Christian faith in years past. (He admits these events in his deconversion testimony). But, he does not seem to have taken the concept of God seriously if the God of his (former) Christian faith can be debunked in the same batch dismissal with Santa Clause, fairies, Sasquatch, and alien abductions.

Tenth, Matt takes great issue with Divine Hiddenness but seemed unable or unwilling to answer my rebuttal here.

Perhaps the strongest point of the night for Matt–not counting rhetorical barbs and witty comebacks (which have audience appeal)–was his emphasis on Divine Hiddenness. If God exists why isn’t he more obvious? Fortunately, I saw this attack coming beforehand. Matt often says that an invisible God is indistinguishable from a non-existent God. And He’s used this tactical claim in most every public debate (on God’s existence). I responded with this (“Why Isn’t God More Obvious?”). In short, God can be plenty obvious but we people are so thick or so unwilling that God’s hiddennes is either justified or it’s not a serious threat to theism. Now Matt’s response is a variety of the problem of evil: God is to blame if He’s allowed such freedom and latitude in the created order to where people or animals can endure an apparent distance/ignorance from God. I won’t vent on that issue here; you can hear what I have to say about that here. In brief, he’d need to show that the vast riches of free-will, character-building, or other greater goods are not enough added-value to justify God’s felt/epistemic distance from man. Matt, of course, made no such case.

Eleventh, Matt largely declined the “con” position and opted for a middle ground of negative-atheism.

To be fair, Matt eventually adjusted/clarified his position so that he did, at least partly, direct his case towards the negative/con position in the debate, that is, he eventually shifted to a “No” answer to the debate prompt: “Does God exist?” But that was only after I challenged him on this point, and asked him to clarify what exactly he was arguing for. Earlier, he tried to say that theism has the sole burden of proof in this debate. That’s a classic tactic of negative atheists (i.e., “lacking theism) in informal discourse. But in formal debate, that’s not how it works. In formal debate, it’s critically important that the question/thesis be sufficiently and clearly divided enough to where there is a “pro” and a “con” position. A straightforward, “Yes/no” question is one of the most common ways to frame a debate this way. Matt largely refused to shoulder any burden of proof as it concerns this debate.

In formal debate, the two sides divide as (1)”Yes/Pro” and (2) “No/Con.” If he preferred to argue for a third option: “Maybe God exists, but it’s yet unknown” then he should have clarified that before the debate and we could have structured the debate topic and question for that purpose. But the agreed-upon topic of this debate is: “Does God exist.” With this topic, both sides are supposed to mount a case for their position and against the opponent’s position. That is, they construct their own case and deconstruct their opponent’s case. Matt almost exclusively aimed at deconstructing my case and offered next to nothing as constructive evidence for atheism. Now my memory might be failing me, but I don’t remember any particular point he made which serves as constructive evidence for atheism. I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that he intended some of his claims to function both for his side and against my side, but I honestly don’t recall anything from Matt’s side except attacks on theism–i.e., deconstructions. The problem with that approach is that it’s sort of like playing all defense and no offense. I only need one point to win if the other team refuses to shoot the ball. In this case, there only needs to be some remote possibility that my evidence/argument is valid and I win because he stayed entirely on defense.

Summary

Overall, it remains clear that the brand of atheism put forward in the debate was overall reactionary, inconsistent, and presumptuous. Where Matt had an opportunity to offer alternative explanations for my lines of evidence, he instead countered with a trumped up version of “Nuh uh.” His case lacked compelling, clear accounts for my evidence. He generally declined any positive case for atheism. Meanwhile, he put forward an amateur conception of theism, a veritable strawman, and beat that strawman senseless. While Matt was talking pejoratively about pinata gods, I was attempting more serious business offering sufficient explanations for (1) moral facts, (2) science, and (3) mind where he lacked any such explanation. Effectively he testified to the paucity of atheistic explanation. Any adolescent can criticize Santa God and rightly they should. He and I can join together in swatting down those garish fictions which only children would believe. But the difference is that after that pinata party. I moved on to investigate serious forms of god-belief and he seemed content to bash at a fallen pinata.

Bear in mind, that I’m not saying theism is an “easy” position. It merits serious investigation, and faces some stiff challenges. But it seems more clear to me after this debate that that atheism is a barren lifeless landscape of negations. The only way to survive in that desert is to smuggle in supplies from outside. Atheists need tools from supernaturalism to even construct a case for atheism.

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22 thoughts on “A Review of My Debate with Matt Dillahunty

  1. “Since these are categorically inexplicable according to atheistic naturalism, yet they exist, then atheistic naturalism is false. Hence super-naturalism, by default, is true.” Are you assuming that anything inexplicable is binary? How can you make the leap that if proposition “A” has flaws then proposition “B” is the only/all truth? Why not “G” or “Z” or ” H.3″. Isn’t that a false dichotomy? And if, for argument, it does then which super-naturalism? Ra? Thor? Ahura Mazda?Zeus?

    As far as Matt’s contention that you “cannot prove a negative” I would agree with him but with caveats. Here is a nice ‘argument” that it is still essentially true but from a less dogmatic attitude: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/believing-bull/201109/you-can-prove-negative

    1. Does naturalism comport with supernaturalism in some way that I’m not aware? In my debate with Dillahunty I dealt in a strict contradiction between naturalism and supernaturalism. If nature is all that exists then by logical necessity SUPER-nature does not exist. X necessarily excludes ~X. That’s the law of noncontradiction. I’m not assuming mysteries and inexplicable things are necessarily binary. I’m assuming the laws of logic, and filling in the variables in a syllogism with evidential (inductive) support. I gave inductive reasons, for example, why “is” and “ought” should be understood as distinct categories. I then use those distinct categories in logical/deductive ways. If you question my evidence that’s fine, but it’s not that I’m assuming mysteries mean some binary outcome. No, the mystery (naturalism’s failure in resolving the is-ought problem) exposes an explanatory gap which, taken as evidence of a weakness in naturalism, accords with the apparent categorical gap between between is and ought. To the extent that naturalism is categorically unable to broach some aspect of reality we have a telling admission–supernaturalism is literally the only other option for accounting for that part of reality. If nature can’t do it and we have inductive reasons for thinking it can’t, we can deductively conclude that supernature is implied therein.

  2. In the debate, I argued that atheists tend to imply supernaturalism even as they propose and argue for atheism. […] Matt […] ignored the premises and just dismissed their conclusions.

    Matt was absolutely correct to ignore this argument of yours – because it does not at all demonstrate that a god of any kind exists.

    For the sake of argument, let’s grant that moral facts, “goal-directedness,” and consciousness are all supernatural things. The existence of some supernatural things in no way demonstrates or even suggests that a god exists.

    You seemed to have a real problem in this debate understanding Matt’s position. Matt was not defending the positive assertion of naturalism. He was arguing that insufficient evidence exists to demonstrate that there are gods. Even if you could prove – 100% for certain – that naturalism is false, it wouldn’t get you a jot closer to demonstrating that there’s a god.

    1. Los, you are correct about Matt’s manner of approach. He employs the, commonly used, Negative atheist position of “non-theism has no burden of proof.” That’s fine in other settings, but it’s a surrender in a debate setting since he was asked to represent the Con position not a neutral/ third position in the debate. Since he adopted and argued for a different position than the con position he thereby failed to make his case in the stated debate.

      Meanwhile, if you grant supernaturalism you granted my case. I was not arguing the ontological argument for classical Theism or something fancy like that. Pantheism, Pantheism, polytheism, even animism would suffice for me case. I was content with a minimal case whereby anything supernatural would be a sufficient demigod or god falsifying naturalism. Had he engaged me at that level we could have parsed out which supernatural characters seem to exist but aren’t sufficiently divine to qualify, but he would have surrendered too much and lost the debate even worse if he attempted that track.

      Underneath the god question there’s a more concrete tangible challenge regarding the sufficiency of naturalistic explanations. I think that’s a fruitful avenue of inquiry per this debate.

      1. Los, you are correct about Matt’s manner of approach. He employs the, commonly used, Negative atheist position of “non-theism has no burden of proof.” That’s fine in other settings, but it’s a surrender in a debate setting since he was asked to represent the Con position not a neutral/ third position in the debate.

        You again seem to be having difficulty following the plot. I’ll try to explain the situation very carefully: you are convinced that a god of some sort exists, presumably because you think there’s sufficient evidence for such a being; atheists aren’t convinced; the argument you made in the debate is, as I showed above, insufficient to demonstrate that a god exists because all your argument tries to do is establish the existence of some supernatural stuff, which gets you no closer to demonstrating that a god exists.

        Would you concede that your argument does not demonstrate that a god exists?

        if you grant supernaturalism you granted my case […] I was content with a minimal case whereby anything supernatural would be a sufficient demigod or god falsifying naturalism.

        Not all supernatural things are gods, so demonstrating that there exist some supernatural things gets you not even a tiny bit closer to demonstrating that a god exists.

        An analogy: imagine that we live in a different universe where the existence of sharks is in question. You set out to defend the position that sharks exist. And your argument for the existence of sharks is this: “there exist living things in the water, such as dolphins and whales.”

        It should be obvious that the mere existence of some living things in the ocean does not demonstrate that sharks exist. Similarly, the mere existence of some supernatural things does not demonstrate that gods exist.

        Of course, your argument fails in this way even *if* I grant that there are supernatural things. I don’t think you’ve come anywhere near demonstrating that “moral facts,” consciousness, and “goal directedness” are supernatural in any way.

    2. Los, I fully track what you are saying. I understand you but you seem to be assuming that there are only a few qualifying candidates defined as “god” from among the many sorts of divine characters claimed across the different theological systems. There are ancestral spirits, ascended masters, Greek Gods, Scottish pixies, Roman Gods, Hindu Gods, and so on. Of course I’m not defending all that. But they suffice, definitionally, to show that there are many more characters denied in atheism than just the God of Abraham in Theism. I’m using a minimal claim argument allowing for any sort of supernature to suffice as a minimal disproof of atheism/example of a god or demigod. It’s the sporting equalivalent of a strong defensive team that scores only a few points off of turnovers but still wins the game because the other team is only sometimes staying on the court, and only playing defense when they do step into play. Matt didn’t defend atheism as a superior explanatory system but just tried to poke a few holes here and there in my position. In debates that’s very bad strategy.

      In this way, you seem to have a much narrower idea in mind which would falsify naturalism but would still align with atheism, ie., atheistic supernaturalism perhaps? You seem to be suggesting a somewhat narrow sense of “god” which I’m not using. Even in Christianity there are different conceptions of God such as Open Theism, Process Theism, Molinism, and classical Theism. When we broach other religions there is pantheism, pantheism, polytheism, henotheism, animism, and so on. Just because most of these debates focus on Abraham theism and typically Classical Theism (as in the Ontological arg) that doesn’t mean I have to defend a particular one over and against all the others and against atheism.

      Had Dillahunty attempted the rebuttal you’re using I’d turn it around and say, “Are you conceding to supernaturalism for the sake of an abridged/unconventional brand of atheism? If so, please tell me what sort of personal, moral, intelligent supernatural beings would it take to satisfy your preferred notion of a ‘God.’? If humans have supernatural causal power in the form of free will, or teleology that would be an odd sort of God but a God nonetheless.”

      Then I’d point back to arguments and evidence from the opening statement–which he largely left unaddressed.

      1. you seem to be assuming that there are only a few qualifying candidates defined as “god” from among the many sorts of divine characters claimed across the different theological systems.

        I’m assuming that we’re speaking in English, where the word “god” is commonly used to a denote a supernatural, incorporeal, intelligent being or mind with enormous power.

        The word “god” and the word “consciousness,” for instance, are not interchangeable in standard English. You claim that consciousness is a supernatural thing. I disagree, but even if I granted that consciousness is a supernatural thing, the existence of that one supernatural thing wouldn’t demonstrate that there is a supernatural, incorporeal, intelligent being or mind with enormous power.

        Now, if you’re redefining the word “god” to mean “any supernatural thing at all, such as consciousness, which I’m going to call ‘supernatural,’” then you’re engaged in a massive equivocation, you’re not arguing honestly, and you’re going to confuse people when you randomly redefine words like “god” to suit the little word games you’re playing.

        If you are indeed redefining the word “god” to mean “any supernatural thing at all,” then you’re not actually arguing at all for the existence of a supernatural, incorporeal, intelligent being or mind with enormous power: you’re merely arguing for the existence of something supernatural. We could talk about whether there’s good reason to think that something supernatural exists, but that’s a separate discussion from whether there exists a supernatural, incorporeal, intelligent being or mind with enormous power. There are, after all, people who believe in various supernatural things but not in a supernatural, incorporeal, intelligent being or mind with enormous power (adherents of some forms of Buddhism, for instance, fit this bill).

        I’d be glad to talk about any aspect of these issues with you, but we would need to be very clear about what we’re discussing. Do you want to discuss whether there exist supernatural things? Do you want to discuss whether consciousness (for instance) is a supernatural thing? Do you want to discuss whether a god of some kind exists? These are each a separate question, and the answer to each question is mostly disconnected to the answers to the other ones.

      2. I think see what you are saying.

        I don’t equate “consciousness” with God, but rather I treat it as evidence of a mind. And while we have minds in the natural order, it’s not clear to me that the natural order is a sufficient cause for such remarkable effects. If there were a supernatural realm inhabited by at least one mind, and Mind entails an intelligent being, then this would suffice, for example, as a roman or greek demigod. Of course that would not satisfy the tenets of classical or Abrahamic monotheism.

        I’m not “Redefining” god either. I’m speaking as a former world religions teacher, in full awareness that the term has a wide range of uses including every sense in which I used it in this debate.

        I’m still wondering what sort of category you are carving out. Are you trying to say that I need to also address Supernaturalistic Atheism? That seems very odd. For debating purposes, I would welcome this tactic from an opponent since it has sold the ideological farm, leaving atheists “squatting” on surrendered land. Atheists would then be left quibbling over the proper terminology for the supernatural being/s but without any ground to stand on. Now that is a fine position for sterile philosophy classrooms, but in the debating stage where worldviews are clashing, that tactic would be a devastating concession.

        For my purposes, it is sufficient for there to be a kind of consciousness, or moral mind, or goal-directed intelligence which is supernatural as that would satisfy many Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age views of deity even if it doesn’t suit your definition of “God.”

        I didn’t claim to “prove” that consciousness is intrinsically supernatural. But I did show how consciousness can be considered as evidence of supernature. And by the principle of sufficient causality, supernature would need a sufficient mind to originate the sort of consciousness we see in nature. In that way, consciousness would be part of supernature as evidenced by its contingent cases in nature.

        I did suggest that if Dillahunty were to appeal simply to human intelligence as somehow being a naturalistic disproof then he risks admitting an exception to the natural laws, thus compromising the structural integrity of his materialism. Human intelligence is quite unique in the world, and it’s capacity for consciousness, teleology, and morality are so wholly inexplicable given natural causes, and are even transcendent in their function, then he just might be admitting an exception to his materialistic naturalism thus throwing the door open for a radical revision of his brand of atheism and a huge concession to my brand of supernaturalism. Now there is a possible escape route for him. He could appeal to non-materialistic/immaterialist naturalism. And that seems to be a possibility in your manner of approach. But I know that’s not his view though, and I know that he’s not quite ready to defend immaterialism without shaking the foundations of his atheism in the process.

      3. Los, are you a Satanist? The way you handle supernaturalistic atheism and some of the features on your Tumblr page suggest you are hiding some of your cards and not revealing what sort of worldview you are actually working from. I’m not trying to commit an ad hominem here, I’m just trying to understand you and your angle of approach well enough to where I can best address you. It’s easy to hear without listening.

  3. I don’t equate “consciousness” with God, but rather I treat it as evidence of a mind. And while we have minds in the natural order, it’s not clear to me that the natural order is a sufficient cause for such remarkable effects. If there were a supernatural realm inhabited by at least one mind, and Mind entails an intelligent being, then this would suffice, for example, as a roman or greek demigod.

    But surely you see the flaw here. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that the natural order is insufficient to create minds. The mere fact that you *propose* the existence of a being that is sufficient to create minds in no way demonstrates that such a being exists or that such a being created minds.

    I’m having a very hard time understanding how you think what you’re saying is a compelling argument for the existence of a god.

    Are you trying to say that I need to also address Supernaturalistic Atheism?

    No, I’m saying that you actually need to demonstrate that a god exists – instead, all you’re doing is asserting that the “natural order” can’t account for various things. Even if I *grant* that baseless assertion, it doesn’t demonstrate that a god exists.

    I’m not saying that I think the supernatural exists — I’m saying that even if it exists, it doesn’t get you any closer to demonstrating your case.

    Los, are you a Satanist?

    No. At any rate, my “worldview” (I tend to think that this word is not very useful) is completely irrelevant to the points I’ve been raising: your arguments do not demonstrate that a god exists, and this remains the case no matter what my or anybody else’s “worldview” is.

    If you’re really dying to know what I personally think (I’m flattered), I’ll tell you a few conclusions I’ve reached: I don’t think that there are any gods because I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence for the existence of any. I don’t think that there are supernatural things because I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence for the existence of any. Importantly, I do *not* assert that gods don’t exist, and I do *not* assert that supernatural things don’t exist. If someone could show me sufficient evidence for these things, I would accept that they exist.

    If you want to slap some kind of label on those ideas and call it a “worldview,” then knock yourself out, but I find such labeling often becomes very distracting to a conversation. It’s much more productive to address specific questions and ideas.

    1. You are welcome to employ negative atheism and debate accordingly. But if you are critiquing my method and argument in the Dillahunty debate then you would be making the same mistake he did. The “con” position is a “No” answer to the debate question. Meanwhile negative atheism/agnostic atheism/”lack of theism” is not a “no” answer but an abstention. In other words it’s a refusal to enter the debate as it’s stated. It’s not strategic, it’s a surrender to abandon your position and argue something else.

      A lot of atheists do this these days and while it works fine in Facebook debates and blogs, but in debates, it doesn’t establish naturalism or materialism as a superior explanation. There’s no default credibility for naturalism in formal debates unless that is stipulated in the premises of the debate. Dillahunty largely refused to even try to show how naturalism could be a better explanation for consciousness, morality, and teleology. He seemed to think that naturalism or atheism is some sort of default and he could assume it as credible as he proceeded to attack my view.

      BTW, most of what I’ve been doing with you is explaining and not arguing. You seem to be mistakingly objecting to my explanations because they aren’t compelling arguments. Well, I’m really just trying to explain my approach and so far you haven’t admitted the most fundamental aspect of the debate. Dillahunty refused to argue the Con position. Will you at least admit that in a standard debate as we had, I was to represent the pro position and Dillahunty was responsible for the Con position?

      1. Will you at least admit that in a standard debate as we had, I was to represent the pro position and Dillahunty was responsible for the Con position?

        Well, obviously each of you was on a side called “pro” and “con” respectively, but I think that you and I disagree about what the “con” position entails: you seem to think that the “con” debater needs to argue in favor of a contrary proposition, while I think that the “con” debater merely needs to show that the “pro” debater has not made his case.

        In other words, you seem to be convinced that Dillahunty was under an obligation to argue in favor of the proposition “No gods exist.” However, I think that all Dillahunty needed to do was to demonstrate that you hadn’t made your case for the existence of a god.

        We could talk for a while about proper debate protocol and what exactly the “con” position ought to entail, etc. – but all of that is completely irrelevant to the larger point that I was making, the point that prompted me to comment on here in the first place: Dillahunty ignored the argument you mentioned in this post because it’s a terrible argument that doesn’t come anywhere *near* demonstrating that a god exists.

        You still haven’t addressed my objections to this argument in your conversation with me. You’ve just deflected like mad, first asking irrelevant questions (“Are you saying I need to address Supernaturalistic Atheism?” “Say, what’s your worldview, Los?”) and then trying to turn our conversation into a discussion of debate protocol.

        Since I answered a direct question you posed to me, I’m going to repost my direct question to you and request that you answer it:

        you are convinced that a god of some sort exists, presumably because you think there’s sufficient evidence for such a being; atheists aren’t convinced; the argument you made in the debate is, as I showed above, insufficient to demonstrate that a god exists because all your argument tries to do is establish the existence of some supernatural stuff, which gets you no closer to demonstrating that a god exists.

        Would you concede that your argument does not demonstrate that a god exists?

      2. Los, are you inventing new debate protocol? Where do you get the idea that the con position isn’t an abbreviation for the contrary position? That is, it’s a “No” answer to the stated premise of the debate. Each side has its own respective positive an negative case. For Matt, that means he needs to give independent reasons for his position (his positive case) and reasons against my position (his negative case/rebutals). If he only attacks my position without offering evidence FOR his position then he’s not arguing for a “No” answer to the debate prompt, he’s arguing for abstaining from answering the prompt. In that event, since he has no offense in his game I need only a little bit of epistemic possibility to win the debate. He even said this in the debate by saying he’s arguing for the “I (Dillahunty) don’t know” position. When I studied logical debate in grad school and when I taught from logic and debating texts in secondary and collegiate level this was the normal operation for debate. If he didn’t want to argue the con position for that prompt then he should have petitioned for a different prompt or at least explain to his audience that he’s abdicating the con position for strategic reasons. Maybe because he owes me a favor, or he changed his views, or he thinks he can “win the war” by surrendering this battle, etc.

      3. And I’m still trying to figure out what tertium quid you have in mind where naturalism is false but supernaturalism is also false. I’ve argued for classical Theism before in the vein of Anselm’s maximally great being. That wasn’t my objective here. I make no suggestion that that was my target, or even anything terribly close to that. I argued for brute Theism, where at least one supernatural moral intelligence exists as a sufficient grounds for some of the phenomena found in nature. Matt gave no superior explanation, misrepresented a few points, offered minimal rebuttal, but overall said, “I don’t know.” Formally speaking, he effectively surrendered the debate.

        Now, I should make it clear, I don’t think my arguments are airtight. I see room for improvement. I’m stuck with you I the formalities, not because I’m trying to distract you from the “meat” of the debate. Rather, I’ve learned not to overlook framing. And you seemed to be framing the debate in a nonstandard and foreign way (which I’ve never seen in debating textbooks, or argumentation guides). I’m hoping to find some concensus before moving on to more interesting stuff.

        And I also think there are better arguments out there, but I just don’t have the experience and research depth with those like I do with the moral, teleo, and mind arguments. Besides, you guys can watch a Bill Craig debate if you want to here top tier cosmo, and design arguments. I intentionally attempted a different track to expand the argumentative opportunities in this field beyond the conventional moral, design, and casual arguments.

    2. If [Matt] only attacks my position without offering evidence FOR his position then he’s not arguing for a “No” answer to the debate prompt, he’s arguing for abstaining from answering the prompt

      No, he’s not abstaining from an answer: his answer is that there are insufficient grounds for thinking that a god exists. This is my answer as well.

      Remember, you’re the one here who thinks a god exists. Presumably, this means that you think you have sufficient evidence for thinking that a god exists. However, I’m convinced that you *don’t* have sufficient evidence for thinking that a god exists: one of the reasons that I say this is that the arguments you’ve presented don’t even come close to demonstrating that a god exists.

      My *entire* purpose in posting here on your blog is to discuss with you the question of whether one of your arguments is sufficient to demonstrate that a god exists. You apparently think that it is, and I think that it isn’t. I have presented an objection against your argument, and I elaborate on that objection below in this post.

      That is the scope of the conversation that I’m interested in having. If you are confident in your argument, then you should have no problem defending it, and I would be very interested in hearing you do so because, as far as I can tell, my objection reveals that your argument is insufficient to demonstrate that a god exists.

      I’m still trying to figure out what tertium quid you have in mind where naturalism is false but supernaturalism is also false.

      It’s sentences like this that make me wonder whether you are comprehending my point at all. Nowhere have I said or even implied that “naturalism is false but supernaturalism is also false” – nor have I said or implied that it’s even possible for this to be the case.

      My suspicion is that your confusion arises from faulty definition: you’ve apparently conflated atheism with naturalism, such that in your mind “proving naturalism false” is the equivalent of “proving atheism false” (i.e. “proving theism true”). But naturalism and atheism are distinct positions, and they do not depend on each other.

      Obviously, if at least one supernatural thing exists, then naturalism must be false (by definition). But even if you could show that naturalism is false – that is, if you could show that at least *one* thing (consciousness, for instance) is supernatural – it wouldn’t even remotely suggest that there is a god.

      Let me illustrate my objection with a hypothetical situation: let’s say that you demonstrate to me that consciousness is supernatural. Let’s imagine here a hypothetical situation where you come up with some way to confirm, beyond any reasonable doubt, that consciousness is supernatural. Let’s even say that in this hypothetical situation, you demonstrate this fact in a laboratory, through repeated experiments, and then your findings are confirmed by independent experimenters, and the idea spreads like wild through the scientific community. Soon, pretty much all intelligent people become convinced that consciousness is supernatural.

      In that hypothetical situation, I would then be convinced that consciousness is supernatural. We could call my position “supernaturalism,” but it would be a kind of supernaturalism that consists of one idea and one idea ONLY: consciousness is supernatural.

      That is the extent of the supernaturalism that would be justified in that hypothetical situation. We would know that consciousness is supernatural, but we wouldn’t yet know whether any other supernatural things exist. It could be, after all, that consciousness is the only supernatural thing; it could also be that there are other supernatural things, but we wouldn’t be able to tell whether there are other supernatural things merely from having demonstrated that consciousness is supernatural.

      So while I could be called a supernaturalist in that hypothetical situation, I would be no more convinced of theism than I am right now in our current situation, where I’m not a supernaturalist.

      This is the meat of my objection to your argument: even IF you could demonstrate that consciousness is supernatural, it wouldn’t demonstrate that a god exists. I’m not merely saying that your argument “isn’t airtight.” I’m saying that your argument *completely and totally fails* to demonstrate that a god exists.

      As far as I can tell, this objection blows your argument to pieces. I’m really curious what you have to say in response, but you’ve so far refused to respond. I would hope that you’re interested in talking about the specifics of your own argument.

      1. Los,

        I’m not addressing the bulk of your last comment because I’m still hung up on the issue about formal debate. This is a big deal, and it frames most of my argument. If we can’t come to some sort of resolution on the pro-con polarity of debate positions then I’m afraid you are going to chronically misunderstand my argument, its aims, and its value within the debate. And you will mistakenly judge a winner and loser on the basis of a radical misunderstanding of (and imported bias) against debate proceedings.

        Neither you nor I are at liberty to redefine formal debate structure, at leisure, and then hold the other person to that standard. I’m following established formal debate procedures with a pro position and a con position. From your responses you seem confused on what counts as the negative or con position. But before explaining this here are some citations so you don’t think I’m making this stuff up.

        “A debate is a discussion or structured contest about an issue or a resolution. A formal debate involves two sides: one supporting a resolution and one opposing it.” — http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/frame_found_sr2/tns/tn-13.pdf

        “Whoever chooses to be the opposer should then accept or decline the challenge on the basis of that debate title.” –http://www.rationalskepticism.org/formal-debates/formal-debate-rules-guidelines-t6929.html

        “Select participants to take part in the debate and divide debaters into two teams, one team in support of the resolution (pro) and one team in opposition to the resolution (con). The most common number of members per team is two, but more than two may be used.” –http://www2.maxwell.syr.edu/plegal/crit3/a5.html

        “A debate has two teams: an Affirmative and a Negative. The First Affirmative speaker begins the debate, and is then followed by the First Negative speaker.” — https://www.debatingsa.com.au/Schools-Competition/Documents/Debating-An-Introduction-For-Beginners.pdf

        To be clear, the positions debated are not: Pro and [Abstain]. Abstention would be a verdict of the judges if they believe neither side effectively made their case.

        I grant that there are different types of debate (i.e., parlimentary, Lincoln Douglas, etc.). But I do not grant that the con position is identical with or can be legitimately exchanged for a neutral/agnostic position. You would need to prove this novel interpretion, and so far you’ve only stated and restated it like I’m supposed to agree with your unargued assumptions by rational default.

        This issue is so subtle but so important because with any claim there’s an affirmation, a negation, and an abstention. Abstentions, in debate, would be essentially a tie. We cannot know as a yes or a no answer to the the debate prompt.

        Now here is where I think you are bringing something else into the debate that is fraudulent. I think you are importing the common argument strategy on the internet of shifting the burden of proof entirely onto the theist since “theists are making a claim, but atheists aren’t.” In this vein, the one making an argument has the burden of proof. The skeptic, in this case the negative atheist (aka, weak/soft atheist or even agnostic atheist), would not have to “prove anything” since presumably he’s not making a claim for or against God he just withholds belief in the absence of sufficient rational grounds for belief.

        That’s all well and good in informal settings. But if Matt wanted to carry that backstory into the debate he needed to establish that within prior deliberations, and in the course of the debate prompt. Instead, he refused to argue for a “No” answer but rather proposed a non-answer to the debate prompt. If that’s how he wanted to argue, then he should have proposed a prompt where the con position IS the agnostic/negative atheist position. He did no such thing. You, now, are trying to import that backstory–or so I gather–into the debate when that’s anachronistic and a fraudulant framing of the debate.

        And so you are left making a lot of critical points—some of which are interesting, and intelligent—but these hinge on faulty assumptions which bias the debate against the pro position.

        Meanwhile, as I skim the rest of your admissions you are still granting the brute theism (minimal theism, aka., superanturalism) for which I was arguing. Now you call consciousness an “idea,” and I would suggest you’d can’t have the idea of consciousness without having the metaphysical fact of consciousness to think ideas into existence. But, still, you granted supernaturalism for the sake of argument. That said, you still seem to have in mind a taller order of theism than what I was arguing for. If you are going to “help” Matt out, then you would do well not to reinvent formal debate, anachronistically retrofit that on top of the past debate, and you’d do well not to concede the heart of my affirmative argument.

      2. I’m still hung up on the issue about formal debate.

        Clearly. But I’m not having a formal debate with you. I’m trying to understand why you think an argument that you made is sufficient to demonstrate that a god exists.

        Again, you have said that you think an argument of yours is sufficient to demonstrate that a god exists, and I disagree with you on that specific point. I have a specific objection to that single argument, an objection that I think destroys that one argument, and I’m interested in hearing your defense.

        Ours is a discussion about one narrow point. If you should fail to defend your argument against my objection, it would not mean that there are no gods, nor would it mean that you have lost some kind of “formal debate” with me. I’m not having a formal debate: I’m asking you to explain one of your arguments because that argument frankly does not make sense.

        you are still granting the brute theism (minimal theism, aka., superanturalism) for which I was arguing.

        I think the labels that you are using here (“minimal theism,” etc.) are at the very least unhelpful to our discussion, and these labels seem to be confusing you and preventing you from understanding my point.

        Once again:

        Your argument, as I understand it, proceeds from the claim that some supernatural things exist to the conclusion that a god exists. I’m not sure how your argument gets to its conclusion. The conclusion appears to be a non-sequitur.

        In an attempt to show you how your argument is a non-sequitur, I’ve said that I’m willing to grant for the sake of argument that a supernatural thing exists. That is, hypothetically speaking, let’s say that you can demonstrate to me that ONE thing is supernatural (let’s say that you demonstrate to me that morality is supernatural). At that point, I would be justified in accepting that exactly ONE supernatural thing exists. And the existence of one supernatural thing does not suggest that any other supernatural things exist, let alone that a supernatural intelligent being of great power (a “god”) exists.

        Please explain how the existence of one supernatural thing suggests that there is a god.

        you granted supernaturalism for the sake of argument. That said, you still seem to have in mind a taller order of theism than what I was arguing for.

        I don’t see how your argument demonstrates any kind of theism at all.

        You can *call* the belief in at least one supernatural thing “theism” — as you evidently do — but you’re just playing a game with words at that point. Putting a new label on things doesn’t demonstrate that a god exists.

    1. Which question? I answered every question he asked which seemed relevant. But I could have missed something. Overall it looks like he thinks I’m commenting on simply the discourse with him when I’m actually commenting on my debate with Dillahunty and how Los chronically misrepresents that debate. Los seems to be addressing me as if my debate was phrased toward him, and toward negative atheism as is common in popular atheistic discourse. Instead my debate strategy with Matt was aimed specifically at Matt’s brand of atheism and his particular style of argumentation. He’s evasive, tends not to defend atheism, and tends to target big bold theistic claims. So, I minimized my “big” claims, and anticipated several of his evasiona. Overall, and by formal grading, I think Matt lost the debate (since he abstained from defending the con position).

      I don’t know Los, so I haven’t phrased any particular theistic arguments towards him. I have however pointed out that his objections, so far, surrender so much that he’s not really retaining atheism (unless he’s holding to some brand of atheistic supernaturalism like Satanism, or some brands of Buddhism, or Jainism). All of those examples, however, would have been sufficient to undermine Dillahunty’s brand of atheism. Since he presents and argues a for strong anti-supernaturalism with a methodological scientistic (not scientiFIC) bias.

  4. Did you? I may have missed it. I don’t understand how demonstrating a supernatural realm or supernatural causation to anything is sufficient and necessary evidence for a god. If you’ve already demonstrated that above, let me know the date of the reply and I’ll reread so as not to waste your time. But if you haven’t specifically laid out how that’s so, I ask the question myself, because I’m damn curious.

    1. Peter, I see. My demonstration was of a supernatural consciousness, and intelligence, who is sufficient to ground moral facts. I would converge these through Occham’s razor. This is sufficient for any of the millions of gods that atheists reject as “gods” (ie, “you reject millions of God’s already, I just reject one more than you”). These are demigods like Horus, Hermes, or million different swamis. As I stated in my opening argument and many times since then, my goal was not classical Theism or Anselmian Theism or even Abraham’s Theism, but the most broad and general god-belief. Heck even some forms of emperor worship would qualify and those have the most austere supernatural commitments. My goal was no so much to defend Theism in conventional terms but to test atheism for internal coherence and I think Matt showed himself unwilling to defend classical atheism, ie the con position (he adheres to the more fashionable modern brand, negative atheism) and has no real answer for any of my three opening arguments.

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