Debate:How to debate a theist

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Winning a debate with a theist[edit]

Anyone got some tips on how to beat a theist in a debate? We are discussing 'God's Love' of animals. I need evidence to help back me up. Help is appreciated. I need to pwn this guy. --"CURtalk 19:18, 8 February 2009 (EST)

What is the debate about? ĴαʊΆʃÇä₰ I like bloody brand names

I said above. Started in the forum. Bascially, it's your normal 'is god good' 'no he isn't' 'yes he is' type of thing. --"CURtalk 19:25, 8 February 2009 (EST)
Ask this string...
Is god all powerful?
Default response:Yes, he is
Can god do anything at all that he wants to?
Default response:Yes, he can and does
Then why does god allow suffering in this world?
Tell me what his response is, and I will give you the gut punch to go with. ĴάΛäšςǍ₰ secret trainer of raids!
You ask how a God can exist when evil exists.
If you talk about the existence of evil, you have to accept the existence of good. If evil is something wrong, then there has to be a right way for things to be. If you accept the idea of good and evil, you have to accept the idea of a moral law to differentiate between them. And if you accept a moral law, does that not imply the existence of a moral lawgiver? Without a lawgiver, you cannot have a law, without the law you cannot have good, and without good, there can be no evil. When you look at the implications of the question, the question itself becomes a contradiction? --CPAdmin1 01:09, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Natural law has no "lawgiver." Or don't you believe in natural law, Colonel? Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 01:17, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Where does "natural" law come from then? There has to be a source. There has to be a basis. Whatever you say is your basis, it is always going to have to work back to an ultimate lawgiver. --CPAdmin1 01:57, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Causality is part of natural law. Therefore, natural law itself is not bound by causality and is not required to have a "source," just as your YHVH is not required to have a creator. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 02:11, 9 February 2009 (EST)
So basically, there is no basis for natural law. It just is? --CPAdmin1 02:16, 9 February 2009 (EST)
AFAIK, that's pretty much as far as we can go with science, yes. If you had a theory where natural law was created, you'd need to describe how it came into being and you'd end up with the question on what caused that creation in the first place. In the end, it prolly just boils into the "everything always existed in some form" versus "everything came from nothing" debate, to which we have no answer (and both answers seems equally impossible) --GTac 02:22, 9 February 2009 (EST)
(EC) It is not required to have a source or basis. Most of us here probably believe, as I do, that it does not have one, or alternatively just do not believe that it does. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 02:29, 9 February 2009 (EST)
So if you can't directly observe it scientifically it doesn't exist? You can't just say it is that way because it is. You can't just skip a logical step because it isn't scientifically observable. You cant have a law without a lawgiver. If there is no source or basis, why should this "law" be respected? --CPAdmin1 02:31, 9 February 2009 (EST)
"So if you can't directly observe it scientifically it doesn't exist?" That describes logical positivism, to which I do not subscribe. "You can't have a law without a lawgiver." I have just argued that you can. "If there is no source or basis, why should this 'law' be respected?" Try to break it; see what happens. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 02:51, 9 February 2009 (EST)
A couple of problems here. That there is a way for things to go wrong does not entail that there must be a way for things to go right; it might well be that every possible course of action in some given situation 'goes wrong' in this way. If you want an example, I can come up with one. The only successful theodicy I know of - that is, one which preserves free will, God's perfections, and God's justice - is the evolution of the Leibnizian theodicy first developed in sections 13, 30, and 31 of his 'Discourse on Metaphysics'. Unfortunately for some theists, the Leibnizian theodicy is incompatible with an eternal Hell, and with the explicit claim that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin. Also, it turns out that it's a mistake to refer to natural laws as laws. Nancy Cartwright's 'How the Laws of Physics Lie' and Jim Woodward's 'Making Things Happen' are the go-to explanations here. Sir Sockpuppet 16:19, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Even if "every possible course of action 'goes wrong'," that does not mean that there is not a hypothetical way something could "go right."
Some more theodicies: (1) no Gods exist, therefore the whole problem is nonsense; (2) the Weird Sisters control our fates and they do what they bloody well want to, and you can only begin to judge whether they are "good" or "evil" a posteriori.
Profs. Cartwright and Woodward are not physicists, so I would be disinclined to trust them on that topic. But my point about natural law was that CPAdmin1 was confusing laws that do have a lawgiver, such as "moral law," with laws such as causality, which do not need to have one. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 17:21, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Actually, if every possible course of action goes wrong, that does mean that there is not a hypothetical way something could go right. That's just what I meant by "every possible"; I'm sorry it was unclear.
Unfortunately, neither of your suggestions is a theodicy. Theodicies are attempts to salvage the omni-God from the problem of evil.
That neither Cartwright nor Woodward is a physicist is irrelevant. They're both philosophers of science whose work is focused on the nature of natural law and explanations of causation. By the way, you'll find that there aren't many physicists who go around trying to explain causation these days. Now, whether the moral law requires a lawgiver is pretty much the classic Euthyphro dilemma, and the answer to that one is at best unclear and at worst insoluble. 17:53, 9 February 2009 (EST)
I need to clarify what you mean about the "wrong and right" question. Suppose that a murderer has just hurled someone off a cliff and they are hurtling toward jagged rocks. Suppose further that there is no means at hand of saving the victim's life, so his dying is a foregone conclusion. Is this the sort of situation you meant, and if not, what is another example?
The remarks about theodicies were a joke to illustrate how blatantly the real ones violate Occam's razor. At the risk of sounding too poetic, the best d***ed theodicy I ever did see was made by a nut, name of Robert T. Lee. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 00:28, 10 February 2009 (EST)
I admit, the sort of situation I had in mind was a bit exotic: Suppose you were in a non-normal world (in the Lewisian sense) in a situation where every available action including inaction would commit some sort of moral wrong against someone else. The point I was trying to make is that there's no necessary logical connection between "things going wrong" and "things going right".
I think you are misusing Occam's Razor in what is, alas, the most common way to do so. Occam's razor forbids us from multiplying entities unnecessarily (and is even then only an epistemological guide, not a metaphysical one: why should we think that the Universe really is as simple as possible?) but every iteration of the problem of evil is a reductio - complete for the Logical Problem, incomplete for the Evidential Problem - that begins with the assumption "God exists". If you don't have that assumption, you can't run the reductio, and that's where the workable theodicies get their foot in the door. It's really worth reading Leibniz's Discourse on Metaphysics, which is well before he went crazy and started talking monads. All that said, I'll check out your link now.Sir Sockpuppet 04:14, 10 February 2009 (EST)
I am no modal logic expert, but is a "non-normal world" not one in which the laws of logic do not hold due to a contradiction being true in that world? In this sort of world you could say that every action and inaction is concurrently righteous and abominable, so to speak of any "moral laws" there is meaningless. Exotic, indeed.
Above, I incorrectly said that the theodicies violated Occam's razor. I should have said that, since the creationist starts with what seems to be the "simplest" idea (Goddidit) and then has to make these slippery theodicies that vastly increase the complexity of this idea, the theodicies illustrate that the creationist's whole belief system violates Occam's razor. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 13:56, 10 February 2009 (EST)
That's one sort of non-normal world, yes, but the Lewis non-normals are just those worlds with a degenerate accessibility relation - that is, those worlds that are accessible to other worlds but from which no other worlds are accessible. They break S5, but they're useful for demonstrating limits on conceptual space.
Are you familiar with the Leibniz theodicy? It's very different from most forms. All it claims is that if God exists, then this must be the best of all possible worlds (and then you get all sorts of weird results from there, but not Razor violations). Remember that Occam's Razor only forbids multiplication of entities beyond those needed to explain the phenomena in question. Sir Sockpuppet 14:38, 10 February 2009 (EST)
Again, I am no expert on modal logic, so now that this thread of the talk is starting to sound like gobble-de-gook to me, I shall bow out of it.
I am also unfamiliar with the Leibniz theodicy, although from what I do know of it, it sounds fairly reasonable. Is this summary accurate: To be any better, the world must be logically inconsistent or "impossible," so God "did his best" when making it?
But regarding theodicies in general, I shall argue this way: The Big Bang is a perfectly good origin-story and is grounded only in observed, natural phenomena. To have a theodicy one must have a God, which adds to the mix of assumptions, which is a violation of Occam's razor when arguing about the origin of the world. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 15:19, 10 February 2009 (EST)
That's fair enough. If you'd like a good introduction to modal logic, Beall and van Fraassen's Possibility and Paradox is my favorite, though the forthcoming text by Mattey also looks good in the most recent draft I've seen.
That's a decent summary. A more complete one would be something like this: If God exists, then He's a benevolent omni-being. If He's a benevolent omni-being, he must have made actual the best of all possible worlds. So all apparent evil is necessary for the greatest possible good (the money quote from DM is "All evil must be repaid with interest elsewhere in the Universe"). This leads to the realization that it would be unjust for God to punish even evil actions which were ultimately necessary with eternal torment. So if there's a God, Hell can't be all that bad. It's sort of a nice inversion of Pascal's Wager.
You're probably right about the Big Bang, but there are certainly reasonable objections (the Kalam version of the cosmological argument comes to mind) that are worth considering. Personally, I take two parts Leibniz, three parts whiskey, shake well with ice and serve in a tumbler as needed. It's working out pretty well so far. Sir Sockpuppet 17:36, 10 February 2009 (EST)

'is god good' 'no he isn't' 'yes he is' Why even debate? There is no God, so debating his qualities is meaningless to begin with. Also--no-one ever wins debates between fundamentally incompatible worldviews. I had this debate to no end a quarter century ago, and someone told me he'd had the same debate to no end a quarter century before that. You're both wasting your time, TheoryOfPractice 19:33, 8 February 2009 (EST)

EC Not to burst your bubble, Javascap, but the usual reply to that is "God allows suffering to test our faith is Him. The EmperorKneel before Zod! 19:34, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Yes, that was fairly obvious. --"CURtalk 19:37, 8 February 2009 (EST)
(EC) What is this theist's religion? Benjamin Franklin, as a deist, dealt with the Epicurean paradox in his Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain — concluding that evil does not exist. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 19:38, 8 February 2009 (EST)
Christian who believes that god talks to him and asked him to find out why I 'hate' (i.e, do not accept) Christianity. Member of the forum I mentioned way back when, so he can't tell me to go to hell. Not that I think he would- he seems fairly tolerant. --"CURtalk 19:42, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Well, if it was obvious, then you just need to develop a counter to it. The problem is if he tries something unexpected. The EmperorKneel before Zod! 19:39, 8 February 2009 (EST)

His: 'god talks to me' was unexpected. I think he has been eating the wrong kind of mushrooms. --"CURtalk 19:42, 8 February 2009 (EST)
(ec)(EC)(EC!!!!)(EC!)My response to that would be "What kind of malavolent god is that?! Definitally not a loving one, that's for sure. If a "god" deliberatly lets his creations suffer, that makes him comparable to a person watching his pet mouse get eaten by a snake. Your ideas of a loving god and just god going about "testing" people is a contridictory concept." ĴάΛäšςǍ₰ secret trainer of raids!
Won't work on him. I already tried it. --"CURtalk 19:42, 8 February 2009 (EST)
Well, ask him how this god has gone about talking to him. Then smack it down. Problem is, no matter how heavily you debate some people, they will never budge their view of the world, and some people are futile to waste any time debating with. ĴάΛäšςǍ₰ secret trainer of raids!
I already did. I'm waiting for him to respond. So far, he is merely looking at the hunting thread. I wonder why :-) --"CURtalk 19:48, 8 February 2009 (EST)

In chess notation, this debate progressed like so: E2E4 E7E5 G1F3 D7D6 F1C4 C8G4 B1C3 B8C6. It's your move, Cur. Either you have a standard reply, something like H2H3, or you take a risk with F3E5. Your choice. The EmperorKneel before Zod! 19:50, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Give me a moment to play that on my chessboard... ĴάΛäšςǍ₰ secret trainer of raids!
Please explain- I have no cheese board on me. --"CURtalk 19:55, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Go to for a free one. The EmperorKneel before Zod! 19:58, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Ah yes, that one. Wouldn't that be... Phildors defense or something like that? From where the game is, you can put pressure on the bishop, sacrifice your knight, or castle your king. ĴαʊΆʃÇä₰ I like bloody brand names

Look, I KNOW I shouldn't do this, and I do not want to initiate HCM, but--CUR, given your fervent desire to have people accept your beliefs about your therian nature as founded in some sort of rationality while having no supporting evidence besides your own feelings, is it not a little teensy bit disingenuous of you to rag on this guy for hearing God's voice and accuse him of being on some sort of mushroom? TheoryOfPractice 20:00, 8 February 2009 (EST)
I just thought of a therian joke. Here it is (I made it up)

Definition of red-shift: Whenever a therian becomes exceptionally annoyed. --"CURtalk 20:41, 8 February 2009 (EST)

An excellent question. Here is the answer- I don't care about whether you accept my viewpoints. I merely wish you to be polite. As for hearing God's voice, it is a syptom of mental delusion. As for therianthropy, I feel that it needs to be studied in more depth. There must be some sort of rational explanation. I merely do not know what it is. Do you believe that there is a rational explanation for love? If you do, do you have evidence of its existance besides your feelings? The fact is, he brought up the subject. I see nothing wrong in debating about it with him. I would not call his beliefs a pile of **** or anything similar. That is the difference. I KNOW that you will not accept therianthropy, mainly because I gave a bunch of explanations that I never would have given if I was in such an awkward situation (I didn't believe half of them). I have not accused him on being on mushrooms to his face, and I doubt he is, but the idea of someone hearing god's voice is a sign of mental disease. It is merely a respectful debate. When he said, 'God asked me to find out why you hate Christianity' (probably misquoted, but accurate), that rang alarm bells in my head. As for therianthropy, how can something thousands of people feel possibly not have some truth to it? There is an explanation. I am seeking for it. I have made it my life to seek for such an explanation. I can't do it alone, though.

(EC) And I ought not to be saying this, but does not the fact that these debates often reach an impasse indicate that reason does not favor one such world-view over another?

"'is god good' 'no he isn't' 'yes he is' Why even debate? There is no God, so debating his qualities is meaningless to begin with." This does not constitute an argument in the eyes of those of us who do believe in the existence of Gods; to argue properly against someone's world-view, one must use the reductio ad absurdum and argue as if his opponent is correct. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 20:14, 8 February 2009 (EST)

But for me, to argue whether or not God is good is no different than arguing whether or not unicorns are pink--or whether or not dhehtrsrs are thdocnwew. The term "God" connotes, like the term "unicorn" and "dhehtrsrs" something that does not exist--and therefore can have no qualities such as "goodness," "pinkness" or "thdocnwew"-ness. TheoryOfPractice 20:19, 8 February 2009 (EST)
But the real question is: is the god described in the Bible good or evil? We can make judgements on that. --"CURtalk 20:22, 8 February 2009 (EST)
(EC) It does not thence follow that you should avoid speaking of a God's goodness in an argument with a theist, since in his world-view, the statement "God is good" has far more meaning than the statement "Toves are slithy." Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 20:32, 8 February 2009 (EST)
It's complicated by the fact that being "good" is part of the definition of being God (at least in the Christian definition). ΨΣΔξΣΓΩΙÐWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 20:45, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Sorry no response for a while, but I was just watching 24(great show) The chess situation is my favorite one. It's a fairl common position. If you take a conservative move, then the game plays out, and probably draws. But, if you take the risky move, then you sacrifice the queen for a checkmate by G4D1 C4F7 E8E7 C3D5 CHECKMATE. It was an analogy for CUR debate. Either he can take the line supported bu JC and others, or he can try something new, and potentialy either epic fail or PROFIT! The EmperorKneel before Zod! 20:58, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Well, Lenowill has been looking at the dragon thread for several minutes now and hasn't responded to my message (not on the dragon thread) so I highly doubt he will bring it up again.
Saying "God is/is not good" is the same as saying "Mwalllmquip obeys/disobeys Mwalllmquip's rules" Mwalllmquip has the same chance of existence as God and his rules the same chance of being good. It's all a load of crap, and belief in a deity is really rather silly. IMnHO ToastToastand marmite 21:01, 8 February 2009 (EST)
I am aware of that, Toast. But the whole point is whether the god described in the Bible is good or evil. Doesn't matter whether it exists or not. --"CURtalk 21:03, 8 February 2009 (EST)
Why bother, why not discuss some other fictional character's traits: "Is Tom sawyer racist?" for example. ToastToastand marmite 21:08, 8 February 2009 (EST)
If someone brought it up, I would. --"CURtalk 21:09, 8 February 2009 (EST)

I'm sorry if it causes any confusion, but I changed the section header to something less suggestive of violence. "Beating a theist" had an uncomfortably thuggish sensibility to it. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 21:02, 8 February 2009 (EST)

No need to worry. --"CURtalk 21:03, 8 February 2009 (EST)
Why is any thread started by the cur never worth reading...? ħumanUser talk:Human 22:30, 8 February 2009 (EST)
Yet it was worth leaving that derailing derisive comment, why? --GTac 02:17, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Yes, because when I left it, there was little but the embarrassing irony of a "therian" seeking to debunk a "believer", with no sign CUR even got the sadness thereof. Meantime, many other comments by intelligent people have accumulated. Hmmm, but none from CUR (intelligent comments), really. Oh well. ħumanUser talk:Human 02:03, 10 February 2009 (EST)

I hope I'm not repeating anyone here (too lazy to read everything in this section), but when debating a theist (or anyone who holds strong beliefs in something) it's very important not to just attack them, it will only shut down the debate. If you start off with something like "Christianity is stupid, just the fact that there were a bunch of similar resurrection stories before the new testament was written shows its just a ripoff!", they'll stop listening to the arguments (no matter if they're right or not) and it will start a shouting match. And again, I don't mean this is because 'christians are so stupid they cant debate' or something like that, you'd prolly do something like this too if someone just starts attacking you like that, because it's conceived more as a personal attack than an actual argument.

A better way is to ask them question on a subject, and ask follow up questions on that. Think along with them and interject your argument respectfully where applicable. Also, it might be nice to have a computer handy to look up sources (since you'll prolly run into points where one says something happened and the other just denies it). --GTac 01:58, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Following up on that - you, as a rationalist, and if you're debating honestly, should also be prepared to accept that he could present evidence that he is right. Essentially he is making a claim: God exists. Ask him what testable evidence he can present to back up his case and then see if it holds up.--Bobbing up 02:28, 9 February 2009 (EST)
EC GTac, I have no difficulty with anyone believing in imaginary friends as long as they don't expect me to respect their stupid belief. ToastToastand marmite 02:33, 9 February 2009 (EST)
I pretty much agree with that. If you want a proper debate however, you'll have to show respect for their arguments though. I don't think this really has to do with rationality, it doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong, it just prevents the debate from escalating into a shoutfest. --GTac 03:05, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Sorry, I can't debate with anyone who begins with the premise that supernatural beings/forces control any aspect of reality. Their base for argument is ridiculous and deserving only of contempt. ToastToastand marmite 03:35, 9 February 2009 (EST)
There is little point in having any sort of "rational" debate with someone who accepts something based on faith alone. They have already ignored all the evidence so there is no way that one can land a "killer" punch. If there was such a thing as a killer argument then there would be no occasion to be having the discussion in the first place. When they have the ultimate get-outs of Goddidit or that's just to test our faith there is no way you can win. Although I would like to know why God needs to "test our faith" if the evidence for him is so profound. Redchuck.gif ГенгисGum disease 03:43, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Though I understand your sentiment Toast, I'm afraid it does put you in the same position as people like Andy, who refute any debate with people from the opposite side out of hand. And while I don't think you'll convince anyone over 40 to change their mind on their faith, I don't think that renders the reasons for a debate completely useless. Being derisive and disrespectful towards them however only does harm, even if you're right. --GTac 03:55, 9 February 2009 (EST)
I suppose you're never going to have any kind of debate if you start with "I'm not going to listen to you because you're wrong." I'm pretty convinced that there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden, but if somebody is brave enough to present real evidence to the contrary I'd have a look at it. At the very least it would be amusing.--Bobbing up 04:18, 9 February 2009 (EST)
GTac; if someone states their premise that a "god" exists, then I'm afraid we have little or no common ground on which to debate as I am firmly of the belief that this is false. I cannot imagine any circumstance which might cause me to accept that any results deriving from their premise are valid, always excepting those which can also be derived from the contrary (my) premise of course. So what point in "debate"? ToastToastand marmite 04:36, 9 February 2009 (EST)
The problem with you position, Toast, is that you seem to be refusing to accept any potential evidence against your position without even looking at it. You are convinced that it can't exist - so there is no point in examining it. I agree that such evidence almost certainly doesn't exist, but your position - that evidence can't exist -, frankly, seems just a tad close to faith.--Bobbing up 05:08, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Bob: I do reject, out of hand, any assertion of "supernatural being(s)". Call it faith if you want, I'd say it's realism/rationalism. Likewise "omnipotent being(s)", "omnipresent being(s)" and any of the combinations/permutations of them that are brought up from time to time. By definition any such being" would be contrary to the laws of the universe as far as we know, or at least believe, them to be. If such a being existed then it would be undetectable, as would its actions (strictly speaking its actions would vary the laws and lead to their revision and possibly the detection of the being, thus removing it from the "supernatural"), moreover, if such a being existed and was responsible for the creation of the universe, and presumably of spacetime, then it would be aware of the entire four(?) dimensional existence of the universe and no actions of we inhabitants of it could have any effect on it. The whole idea's STUPID, is what I'm saying. My modus operandi would be to ask them their definition of "God" and probably switch off once one of the types of "being" I've mentioned above came up. Frankly, batshit crazy though they are, I think the $cientologists are more reasonable than Goddists - at least they base their fairy tales on physical beings. ToastToastand marmite 12:05, 9 February 2009 (EST)
You've got to be fucking kidding. Chris Fanshaw 16:47, 9 February 2009 (EST)
About $cientology? Yes! :Exaggeration for effect. :-) ToastToastand marmite 17:12, 9 February 2009 (EST)

"Winning" a philosophical debate doesn't often happen, since you're unlikely to change this guy's mind about religion & vice versa, but debate is rarely pointless (it only becomes pointless when it reaches the point where you're both repeating the same argumenrs). Unless this guy already has some major doubts about his faith (& if he says God talked to him, you can assume he doesn't), then you're not going to persuade him that God doesn't exist. But you can still give him some things to think hard about.

My advice is to steer clear of the "is the God of the Bible good or evil?" question, since, unless you have some really good examples in mind, he may well know the subject matter more than you. Try out some of the logical arguments instead. Ask "could God create a creature capable of destroying God?" & see how he answers. If yes, then God is not omnipotent, since there could be a more powerful entity. If no, then God is not omnipotent, since there are things He cannot do. If God is not omnipotent, then by most definitions, he is not God. (It's a variant of the omnipotence paradox). The problem of evil is another good argument. ΨΣΔξΣΓΩΙÐWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 10:31, 9 February 2009 (EST)

This wins any debate.
To answer the original question: "How can you win a debate with a theist?"; You can't, they always have the supernatural to fall back on, remember, this includes supernatural, i.e. unfathomable, motives and methods, so logic fails totally when trumped by "Ah but such mysteries are beyond our comprehension", which is a fairly common type of retort from goddists. ToastToastand marmite 12:27, 9 February 2009 (EST)
That's the big problem really. You can't shake faith. I don't know why people think that just accepting things without evidence (and more so when there's evidence against it) is a good thing. Basically, the more you say that it's intelectually indefensible, the more resolute they become. ArmondikoVgnostic 12:51, 9 February 2009 (EST)
If all else fails, play this card. ΨΣΔξΣΓΩΙÐWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 14:23, 9 February 2009 (EST) ----->
Wait, you want to use the omnipotence paradox? Really? Asking any version of that question is just like asking if God can create a square circle. It's not in any way a fault to suppose that omnipotence is bound by the laws of logic. Indeed, if it's not, then God isn't bound by non-contradiction, and there's just no talking to someone who believes that. Sir Sockpuppet 16:24, 9 February 2009 (EST)

To argue the non-existence of God from evil one needs to counter Leibnitz and what he wrote in the Theodicy. The short of it is "does omnibenevolence mean that there should be no evil? Is evil part of a larger plan for the universe?" To which Leibnitz responds "To overthrow this objection, therefore, it is sufficient to show that a world with evil might be better than a world without evil." While I personally don't agree with Leibnitz's further claim of proving that this is the best of all possible universes, I do find his argument that evil is not sufficient to disprove the existence of God. The essay also goes into free will vs omniscience and determinism which is an interesting read. As a strong agnostic I feel that "winning" an argument with a theist is getting them to admit that they cannot prove that God exists and is just a matter of faith. On the flip side, I'll also argue with strong atheists that they don't know either. --Shagie 14:59, 10 February 2009 (EST)

As I said above, that's not quite the right reading of Leibniz's theodicy (and the version in the Discourse is much better than the one from the Monadology, but that's probably just my personal preference). Leibniz doesn't need to prove that this is the best of all possible worlds, only that if God exists, it must be.Sir Sockpuppet 17:36, 10 February 2009 (EST)

(this should be moved and saved as a debate I think) ħumanUser talk:Human 16:51, 10 February 2009 (EST)

He didn't come back. Either I won or he gave up. --"CURtalk 16:54, 10 February 2009 (EST)
Good think it wasn't an IRL debate, eh? xP 21:48, 13 February 2009 (EST)

Viewpoint of a Theist[edit]

(I'm so humble, I get my own section. [/self-deprecation])

Here's my thoughts on the subject, in no particular order.

1. People don't understand science: According to the political scientist Dr. John Miller, only 20% to 25% of Americans are scientifically savvy. For comparison, 18% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth. (For those of you who are thinking to themselves "Pshaw, more evidence that Americans are a bunch of fundamentalist hick idiots", Germany, which is mostly atheists or, at least, non-practicing, had a similar amount of people who think the sun revolves around the earth). Realize that almost any person that you debate is not going to realize that there's a difference between a theory and a hypothesis or that there are mathematics that can determine whether an anomaly is an actual anomaly or evidence that something else is going on.

2. Scientists are not a monolithic group: While it's a great temptation to say "All scientists believe that X" or "No scientist believes that X", scientists are as varied in their beliefs as most anybody else, especially when it's concerning a belief that is outside their field. If at all possible, be specific about what type of scientists generally believe X or, better yet, let the evidence of X stand for itself (then again, see 1). And whatever you do, don't even think of saying trying to dismiss scientists who believe differently by saying "No true scientist believes X".

3. Everybody holds at least one belief which is wrong: Our brains are tricky things. Sometimes, it seems, it makes more sense to hold onto a useful, but wrong, belief than it is to hold onto a less useful, but correct, belief. The easiest example of this is modeling a physical system. Useful models simplify and abstract the underlying physical properties of the system. While technically wrong, they're accurate enough that as long as you're aware that the model is not reality, you don't have to (usually) worry about inaccuracies. For example, assuming that an object falls on Earth with an acceleration of 9.8 m/s^2. It doesn't - you have to take into account air resistance and 9.8 is only accurate to one decimal place - but it's useful.

Why bring this up? So that you don't talk a down to someone just because their beliefs are wrong. You do them and yourself a disservice by talking down to them. After all, causing your debating opponent to "clam up" is counterproductive to the goal of convincing them of your position.

4. You're working against cognitive dissonance: At any given time, it is generally correct to say that a person believes that each of their beliefs are valid. Cognitive dissonance causes this to be true because if a person believes that they are wrong, they either change their actions or they change their beliefs (either the incorrect belief or by adding rationalizations). So just because you believe your opponent is wrong - even if you believe that they are so obviously wrong it's a wonder any person that stupid could function in society - doesn't mean that they believe that they are wrong. Heck, it's debatable whether they are even willfully ignorant (the term "willful ignorance" requires 1984-style doublethink and, the fact is, most people don't have enough concentration to keep that going). Don't assume that you can cause them to change their beliefs in just one debate, or even many debates. If you can do stuff like that, you could probably be sainted (seriously. Saint Augustine's debate against the Manicheans is one of the big reasons he got sainted). In other words, if you're looking to "pwn" your opponent and cause them to convert to right then and there, you're going to be really disapointed.

Another implication of this point is that you shouldn't start yelling, calling them names, etc. This will just exacerbate the cognitive dissonance. They might start yelling, calling you names, etc, but you shouldn't respond in kind (if it makes you feel better, realize that the yelling, etc is just the externalization of cognitive dissonance).

5. Most religious people are relatively rational: It's just that religion requires a number of assumptions that a non-religious person is not willing to make. These assumptions take the form of "God exists", "God is knowable", "The stream of consciousness reincarnates until enlightenment is reached", "God is invisible and pink", and "The faithful will be eaten first". There's nothing wrong with assumptions. Mathematicians make them all the time and they seem to do alright. Science itself is founded on the assumption that one can make logical deductions about the universe through empirical experimentation (then again, one could make the argument that science is able to prove itself since it is probabilistic, rather than absolute, to which a reply might be that probability is an abstraction and inherently false not to mention that all belief and correlation comes from the brain which is inherently fallible and ohgodkillmenow).

What this implies is this: don't try to debate these assumptions. Belief in God is not rational (nothing wrong with that - belief in justice is also irrational, yet not many people seem to want to close down the prisons) and a debate is based on rationality. In general, the more religious a person is, the more they have to rely on assumptions to prop up their beliefs (not always. I consider myself pretty religious, but I also try to keep the number of assumptions to a minimal), which means that there is a point when it is impossible to debate a sufficiently religious person. However, as long as you avoid those "sufficiently religious" people and big assumptions - "God exists" is a big assumption - then you should be able to have a good debate. However, see the next point.

6. Keep the debate on one topic: There's a temptation to try to fight against every single mistaken belief a person holds, especially if you view them as a 'fundy loon'. Don't do it! The further afield you go and the more beliefs you touch on, the greater the chance you are going to come across a big assumption or increase their cognitive dissonance too high (see 4 and 5). Pick a topic and stick to it, no matter. Now, sometimes, your opponent might try to change the topic maliciously. You should respond to this with firm, but polite, insistence to stay on topic. On the other hand, and far more likely, it will be an innocent mistake that either you or your opponent might make. This is usually caused when you try to bring up supporting evidence, but the supporting evidence is based on something that your opponent disagree with. Then, all of sudden, you're discussing the supporting evidence and, before you know it, you went from discussing evolution to the validity of the Asch conformity experiments and neither of you know how you got there. If you see yourself or your opponent start to wander, politely tell them of this fact. Throw in an apology for good measure if it seems necessary.

7. Be kind, be kind, be kind: You should keep this point in mind above all else. You're debating a human being, not an inanimate rock. Unless their beliefs are immediately harmful (and not believing in evolution is not immediately harmful except in really, really weird circumstances), there's no need to be hasty and trample over their feelings. Yes, their feelings are going to get hurt (see 4) but that's no reason to twist the knife. Keep in mind that you're also seeing the person in what is probably their most incorrect. Just because someone believes that the Earth was made 6,000 years ago and fossils were put there by Satan, doesn't mean that they don't love their family, give charity to the poor, or work towards world peace. At best, your politeness will gain you respect from your opponent and audience and might help change some beliefs, while at worst it will do no harm to your position.

Perceptron (talk) 00:19, 27 September 2010 (UTC)

Thanks for your input. I must add, though, re:7 "Unless their beliefs are immediately harmful (and not believing in evolution is not immediately harmful except in really, really weird circumstances)" here in the US most school boards are elected and control the curriculum. These people vote, and they vote for people who wish to destroy the science curriculum and replace it with their young earth views. I see that as dangerous in the immediate time frame. ħumanUser talk:Human 01:15, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
I agree with Human, but my applause goes to Perceptron. That really is a great list. I would add "don't get/act exasperated." Tetronian you're clueless 01:26, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
Yes, that's why I thanked them. Looking up a bit, I realize my thanks may have seemed a bit dry. They weren't meant to be, they were/are genuine. ħumanUser talk:Human 01:42, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
I greatly appreciate #2. I can't count the number of times I've encountered the "X works in some scientific field, thus X represents scientists!" thing, and the sort of converse that "X is believed by many scientists, therefore every scientifically literate person believes X." is no better.
Here's a story that may be relevant: I know someone (a well-educated engineer who is also a "fundie loon") who always seemed fond of acupuncture ("I know it sounds crazy, but it worked absolutely great for me. It cured my asthma."). Attacking that directly would have been very hard for me. However, talking about homeopathy (which is more blatantly woo) prompted a very different response ("Of course that's bunk!"). After discussing why homeopathy is bunk and why so many people believe in it anyway, then bringing the conversation around to acupuncture, this person was very uncomfortable for a moment, but in the end admitted that the "cure" might have been due to coincidence and/or a placebo. I gave my agreement, and then I changed the subject before she felt the need to get too defensive.
In a way this is kind of manipulative, but I don't feel bad about it. I was just being honest and trying to avoid encouraging a rationalization of a bad belief by focusing on just promoting my own viewpoint, and for the most part letting her draw her own connections. And I think it's quite possible that I planted the doubt that will prevent her from advocating acupuncture in the future.
I agree with Human in at least one respect; it's really hard to know which beliefs are harmful and which are safely compartmentalized away. My perennial personal cause is gay rights (hence my unfortunate habit of using it as my example for almost every point I make about fundamentalism). When I get a response like "I don't approve of people being gay, but I think it's their right to live the way they want to." I feel mostly better. But there's still all these little what-ifs I wish I knew the answer to. What if they are encouraging others, and manage to spread their own beliefs, but not their tolerance? What if this person has a kid that turns out gay? Will they muster the same tolerance, or will it be a case of NIMBY? When they go to the voting booth, and there's no gay rights advocate like myself around for them to "reassure", will it be their tolerance that shines through, or whatever's the last message they've been primed with?
If you know that someone privately believes irrational and damaging things, it's not totally reassuring that they act nice when you're around them in public. And when they do manage to cross the line, it's not just appropriate, but for the best to act offended, shocked, hurt, or angry, just to let them know that you don't believe that what they're doing is acceptable, no matter why they do it. I've risked friendships for this reason; I don't regret it in the least. --Quantheory (talk) 05:01, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
Hmmm, perhaps part of the problem is that I have a different definition of "immediate" than you guys do. Immediate, for me is, "You're a Christian Scientist who doesn't believe in medicine and right now your child is going to die of a disease easily treatable with antibiotics within the next few days". If everyone started believing in Creationism today, no more people would die than if everybody started believing that the sun revolves around the Earth. Now, this change in belief would have long-term, and important, implications for humanity, but it's not an immediate issue. To use an analogy: an immediate problem is a pack of wolves chasing you through a forest; Creationism is more like a group of ticks - potentially harmful, disease-carrying, and annoying to get rid of, but not of all that much interest when a wolf is ripping out your throat. That doesn't mean that you want to get ticks. (I initially had my reasoning for why Creationism is a tick rather than a wolf, but it was pretty long and winding and not all that relevant at the moment. If I one would like to discuss it, we can open up a fork at a debate or user talk page)
Now, definitely, it's hard to make a determination about what beliefs are immediately harmful or not, but that's the curse of free will and imperfect knowledge. You make the best call you can at the time, hope for the best, and then if it turns out poorly don't beat yourself up about what could have been or what you could have done - the arrow of time does not reverse itself if you angst about it. All you can do is try to prepare yourself as best as you can.
But, anyways, the reason I try to take a more polite approach (even if it ends up being a firm politeness) is our old friend cognitive dissonance. The statements "Belief X, which I hold, is wrong", "Only idiots believe something which is wrong", and "I am not an idiot" are dissonant and, unfortunately, most people take the easy way out by denying the truth of X. By being polite, you can hopefully convince them that everybody, not just idiots, hold wrong beliefs (see 3) and that there's no shame in changing one's beliefs.
Of course, all this is assuming that your opponent doesn't start yelling that you're a heretic as soon as you open your mouth. Which might be a big assumption. Perceptron (talk) 05:49, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
P.S. Maybe someway of determining harmful beliefs with a variant of Kant's Moral Imperative? Perceptron (talk) 05:49, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
You stupid motherfucker, you aren't even listening. Creationists want to completely undo the teaching of science in public schools and replace it with religious GARBAGE. How many years before students know no science? How many years has it been since these morons took over in how many states? You stupid, stupid, clueless motherfucker. Please excuse my French. ħumanUser talk:Human 07:56, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
Your French is excused (though really, you didn't use any French. "Fuck" comes from Latin roots. C'est la vie...). Here's the thing: creationism existed before evolution. Religious fundamentalism existed before social liberalism. Autocracy existed before the phrase "liberté, égalité, fraternité" was ever even thought. And yet, things changed. While the worry that we are entering into a new Dark Age is frightening (and a possible danger), I don't think that it's likely. Now, I do agree that creationism is damaging to scientific literacy, but here's the reason creationism has found such a foothold is because we don't educate our children in scientific literacy. Instead, we focus solely on the facts and rote memorization of them. In my years in both public and private school, I can't remember a time that I came across a scientific question that required knowledge of the scientific method and inductive reasoning. It was all "Hey, do this Punnett Square" or "Does the sun revolve around the Earth? T/F". In other words, I was taught facts but not how to prove those facts were true. And I wasn't educated in some backwoods "hickville" or anything like that. I was educated in upper middle-class Massachusetts. It doesn't matter if we teach students that the Earth was created from cheese made by the Majestic Cheese Fairy, if we teach them how to evaluate facts through rational methods then the truth will eventually out. Likewise, if all we're teaching students is that evolution is true instead of why it's true, we're just setting ourselves up for future failure.
So, to sum up: even if we fall into theocracy tomorrow, it's still escapable (though the witch burnings will be a bitch); if schools focus on science fact instead of the scientific method itself, we'll always be vulnerable to woo; and "Fuck" is not actually French. Perceptron (talk) 09:41, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
P.S. Moderately interesting fuck fact (fuct): the movie Tigerland has the most uses of fuck in any film. At 527 occurrences, it has a fuck per minute of 5.27. Thanks, fuck! Thuck!

New comment[edit]

Hello all. This is my first post here, so any technical advice would be nice. I'm not sure I completely understand editing the format of the conversation, and how a comment should 'answer' another comment. Anyhow... Someone asked, "Why does God allow evil in the world?" My understanding of God is that He/She/It/They gave mankind free will to do good or to do evil. Many men and women in the world today choose to do evil.JohnFornaro (talk) 13:21, 21 July 2016 (UTC)

You answer like this. See the colon before my response? (You'll need to look in the edit window.) That indents the paragraph. How would you define evil? Is evil anything that defies God? In which case, aren't most people evil? Applesauce (talk) 21:17, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Fun fact: JohnFornaro's theodicy (attempt to give any kind of theological reply to the unsolved problem of evil) is the free will theodicy. It has numerous problems, as seen in the link. The following quote perfectly sums up the fallacy of it as well: "If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?". All the best, Reverend Black Percy (talk) 21:52, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Why is it that god must allow that evil free choices cause evil ramifications to others? I could greedily steal your pumpkin, and god could ensure you don't starve. But that doesn't happen. Moreover any such contention should allow for the fact that the hypothetical god certainly allows non-human evil to exist: disease, frailty, mental illness, accidents, freak lightening strikes. ikanreed You probably didn't deserve that 22:10, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Precisely; the free will theodicy fails to account for natural evil. Like, why is all of nature divided up between prey and predator? And so on. Nevermind the mindless destruction of countless worlds from things like gamma ray bursts. And don't give us "the fall from grace" as a reply. Reverend Black Percy (talk) 23:07, 21 July 2016 (UTC)

Sorry to bump an old thread[edit]

"As for therianthropy, how can something thousands of people feel possibly not have some truth to it? There is an explanation. I am seeking for it. I have made it my life to seek for such an explanation." - Cur

This is an argumentum ad populum and a logical fallacy. Just because you 'feel' that you can shapeshift into an animal doesn't make it any less false. — Unsigned, by: Randír / talk / contribs