On Debating With Theists….
Today I read (and watched) two posts that deal with what happens when atheists and theists discuss religious claims. One is a video from “The Atheist Experience” that was brought to my attention by my good friend Dan of Camels With Hammers. The other is a post by Christian friend of this blog John Barron Jr. of Truth in Religion and Politics, where he waxes nostalgic about a debate he had with an atheist on the subject of the burden of proof in debates. Both are worth checking out for entirely different reasons.
The “Atheist Experience” clip shows what happens when theists make unsubstantiated claims and then honestly follow their own logic. A weaker man would have resorted to changing the subject, or getting angry, or hanging up, but the caller honestly listens to the host and eventually concedes the point.
In the other post, John argues that if someone wants to claim that any statement is false, they must come prepared with evidence- that to take a stand against a proposition, you must first prove that proposition false. Though I agree that we ought to be willing to back up our claims, I still hold that all propositions are not created equal:
In any discussion there is no default position, since once a proposition is offered, there are only three options, and two of them must be defended:
- Affirm the proposition.
If someone offers “P is true”, and you concede P is true, there is nothing more to discuss. The debate is over.
- Deny the proposition.
If someone offers “P is true”, and you deny the truth of P, your position if skepticism does not protect you from defending your position. Neither the one affirming, or the one denying the existence of the plane is correct by default. Since before the claim is made, there is no position at all, there is nothing to defend. But once P is offered in either direction, no one is correct by default. A denial is in fact a position.
- Withhold judgement for further information.
Here you are neither affirming or denying P, and thus are offering no position, and have a burden of proof. It is only this soft-Agnosticism which bears no burden. But this is not what GOD or the skeptic argues. Like affirming P, this also ends the discussion.
It is important to realize no one sits in a position of privilege in any discussion. Everyone has an opinion, and every opinion requires justification.
Anyhow, the video is 12 minutes of pure genius, and John’s post will leave you with something to think about…even if it is a bit convoluted.
Follow the links, and I welcome discussion.