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Dialog and Debate

Rules for Intelligent Debate

From Daniel Dennett. How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, "Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way."
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

A Worthy Target for Christian Apologists

This is not my writing, but it is excellent. A serious Christian apologists should use this as a target of their arguments, rather than a strawman of their own invention. It began as a Facebook post by Tom Rafferty on September 21, 2014. My source is a reposting of this by Dave Foda.

In my several years as an atheist, I have dialogued with many theists, including Christian apologists. In the course of such interaction, without fail, we get to the point where the theist/apologist does not reply to my last statement. I would like to give you a good example of what I use that stops the conversation. Oh, if you are reading this and you are a theist/apologist and wish to respond, please be my guest, and congratulations. You will be the first!

  1. Why should I accept philosophical/theological speculations over evidence?


    (Regarding knowledge, science trumps all)

  2. What is more PROBABLE, and why?
    1. 2000 years ago, god sent his son to save us from the Original Sin of the first two humans, even though science shows that humanity did not begin from one couple but from a group and that human behavior is not unlike that of other social animals. This savior supposedly performed miracles, died and was resurrected. However, there is no independent, contemporaneous verification from sources outside of the New Testament for any of this story. In addition, the New Testament was written by unknown people several decades after the time that these events would have occurred.
    2. Christianity began like several other myths (Note: Even if you accept that there was an historical Jesus, the story is essentially mythical) circulating before and at the same time in the Middle East, and had the subsequent fortune of benefiting from a variety of circumstances to evolve into a major presence in society. Also consider that, throughout recorded history and during this period of time, there were many other cultures in the world practicing animal and human sacrifice to appease a god, or gods. Also consider that there have been many humans who were considered gods. Also consider that there were several other "dying and rising" savior god stories before and around the time of Jesus. Also consider that any claim of a supernatural realm able to affect us must overcome its extreme improbability.


    (Human origins)

    (Animals similar to humans)

    (Poor outside support for New Testament)

    (New Testament origin)

    (Middle East myths)

    (Poor evidence for an historical Jesus)

    (Animal and human sacrifice)

    (Examples of humans who were considered gods)

    (Against historical Jesus; Other "dying and rising" savior gods)

    (A good summary of what we do know about Jesus)

    (No room for the supernatural in our Newtonian reality)

A good supplement is this comment by Rosemary Lyndall-Wemm.

Scientists are trained to use the best available methods for arriving at the most reliable estimation of what is valid and true, methods that are well established and well tested. They weight evidence according to an established scale of discovered reliability which places rigorous double blind studies at the top and barely accepts expert opinion, especially when based on single case studies. They entirely reject unsupported subjective accounts, personal testimonies and hearsay. Multiple level hearsay is classified as ludicrously unreliable. They accept the most probable answers and reject those which are possible but less likely, especially if they fail to account for as many observed variables.

Religious apologists want to turn this approach on its head and use the most unreliable methods and evidential sources known to humans. Why should any sane person consider this the better approach?

The usual answer, if I get one, is that the theological method is the only one that gives the answer that the theologian wants, or its corollary: the scientific method is not designed to investigate these matters and assumes the "wrong" answer.