The IQ2 ‘Atheists Are Wrong’ Debate – If You Can Stomach It

Okay – is there ANYONE out there who can debate (even as an atheist! I’m open to that!) the AFFIRMATIVE to ‘Atheists Are Wrong’ without going off-topic?

Seriously. I was looking forward to this debate. I thought ‘Excellent, a good teaching resource, it’ll be something that I can use for discussion and students who want to come up with good pro-and-cons as to being religious or being atheist can keep this in mind and perhaps be inspired.’ But this one went… and I guess it’s the first thing that came to mind… all wobbly.

I should point out – I am firmly of the opinion that dialogue between people of faith and atheists is needed, especially when it comes to helping atheists understand how to best communicate and develop resources that can progress goals that they have which will benefit people of all kinds, regardless of their faiths. This debate, on the other hand, seemed to very much indicate that it would greatly benefit people of faith to get to know atheists much better as well.

I’m going to make myself watching it for the second time. Yes, sure, I’m biased and I’ve attended lectures done by the Negative side before (Pataki, Caro and Blackford), but the Affirmative side so far boils down to:

Jensen – pretty much concedes the argument that they’re not all wrong… in fact, starts saying that he himself has ‘an atheistic mind, and an atheistic heart.’ and defines the debate to be about the ‘problems of atheists’ instead of ‘completely wrong’. Well, probably the best way to go about it, until he starts to do some rather interesting things with history:

My problem with many contemporary atheists is that they seem like flat-earthers: they look at our world, its origin, character, nature and history, and declare that it can all be explained on simple materialistic principles. They are simplistic. They turn a world charged with grandeur into grey on grey. They forget that William of Ockham and even Galileo are actually ours, not theirs.

…I didn’t realise that we were picking football teams here for Team God or Team Not-God.

Yes, Ockham and Galileo were clearly aiming to make the science and empirical evidence of their findings so much less obvious than their wearing of the God Squad jersey, while they painted the world a shade of hot pink and thus sing in perfect harmony, because reason what?

Maybe the reason why there’s ‘grey’ is because it’s not so black and white? Never fear – as Jensen says, it’s not ALL atheists, just many contemporary ones and maybe we can spot them because of their rose-coloured glasses that they have to wear just to get through life.

Amongst the things Rowland says (and I had to walk out of the room and walk back in to review it again upon listening, I was so astounded):

Sexual relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become mutual manipulation; political relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become brutal power; and market relations hollowed out into their material shell give us consumerism and status anxiety.

If our cultural horizons are determined by our behaviour as meme machines, then it is no wonder that we have ended up with the cult of the celebrity and that people pay a fortune for a pair of Dolce e Gabbana underpants because they have seen a poster of David Beckham wearing them. But I think even Nietzsche would have found this tragic.

This is the sad condition of the homeless ego.

In case you didn’t realise, she means atheists = homeless ego. I don’t know what brand my underwear is, because I don’t idolise Beckham. Considering the rather dire circumstances Nietzsche lived and died in, I’m not too sure whether he’d be rolling in his grave about something like knickers rather than – say – famine, war, political injustice and the continuing existence of Neo-Nazis anyway, but it’s her debate not mine.

Stephens then finishes off with talking about politics (which completely threw me and I thought there was a mistake on the video somewhere) and then got into denouncing a particular ‘type’ of atheism (which I can understand, but it seems to be heading down the same path as Jensen regarding moving goal-posts somewhat) with:

It is apparent, is it not, that the current batch of chic atheists are but a symptom of a more general cultural decline, the steady impoverishment of what Hilaire Belloc perfectly described as “the Modern Mind,” which ceaselessly explains away its own moral deficiencies by projecting them onto God and banishing him into the wilderness.

It is just as apparent why such an atheism – with its cartoon versions of history, its theological illiteracy, it fetishisation of science, its hostility to the humanities and aesthetics, its flattened-out brand of morality as mere “well-being,” its cheap gags and mode of incessant piss-taking cynicism – should appeal so powerfully to a culture that has grown accustomed to the vulgarities and trivia enshrined in the modern media.

…which led me to think it was a pity that he was not coming up with stronger arguments that could apply to atheism in general. I don’t see all atheists ‘fetishising science’ (in fact, I’ve interacted with a few who seemed downright antagonistic… which, I hasten to add, is certainly abominable!) and the ‘hostility to humanities and aesthetics’ I really don’t see at all… is there a gang of atheists destroying art galleries that I’ve missed somewhere or something?

As for ‘cheap gags’, I know examples of humor that just have never appealed to me, regardless of the subject or the person delivering them. Anyone know of examples of bad piss-taking cynicism about atheism?

Yes, I can see how this stereotype persists and I’ve had numerous run-ins with people who just seem to forget that defining oneself as atheist doesn’t immediately exempt one from defending such a stance with logic, let alone plain good manners… but I really don’t see how this is going to be the best approach to establishing “Atheism As Wrong.”

So, I was disappointed with this debate. I’d really love to see one where the atheists present on ‘Christianity is Good, Atheism is Bad!’ and vice versa, in order to interrogate the topic more thoroughly.

The IQDebate poll (as you might expect) ended up having the undecided population mostly move over to the Negative:

Pre-debate poll For: 28.5% – Undecided: 15.5% – Against: 56%

Post-debate poll For: 28% – Undecided: 6% – Against: 66%

All the arguments are transcribed and featured on the ABC Website (Jensen, Rowland and Stephens, with the Negative featured at Pataki, Caro and Blackford).

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Aliasalpha

    Assuming they’re trying to prove that atheists are wrong about their position on the supernatural, surely the one and only thing they need to do is present some form of evidence that would invalidate the claim of there being no reason to believe in a wish fulfillment fantasy without evidence.

    Okay I’m watching the video and as a defence mechanism I’ve decided to do a stream of consciousness review because already the facepalming has threatened to break my nose.

    …fucks sake… Right out of the gate the archbishop [Jensen] listed as valid most of the major fallacies that have been debunked dozens of times, did he do research? Well probably but had nothing else. Special pleading, conflation of evolution & abiogenesis, argument from personal experience, argument from ignorance, “can’t say it didn’t happen!!”… its like listening to an american creationist. Atheists would LOVE to study jesus in exacting detail, all archybish needs to do is produce him in person. As for studying the bible… yeah why do you think many of us are atheists, we’ve READ it

    Pataki was fairly good if somewhat halting in his delivery, I’d have liked to have seen him call out the special pleading a bit more strongly. At least he managed to stay on point and made some good arguments.

    Rowland seems to mostly object to things being explained and thereby no longer being magical, the kind of person who’d complain you’re ruining a rainbow if you talk about refraction of light. Wait, wait, wait, CHRISTIANITY LIBERATES PEOPLE FROM THE FEAR OF FATE??? What bloody variant of christianity does she adhere to?? Something that lacks the whole “You’re fucked forever if you don’t worship the all knowing monster without a hint of doubt or cessation”? Even the video stalled at that whopper!
    And now she’s conflating the achievements of religious people with the religion itself… Artist X is religious therefore Artist X’s masterpiece would be impossible without god… If things WERE hollowed out to the materialistic shell, they would be average to bad, lucky they’re not for the most part. So christian stuff is real stuff & everyone else’s stuff is shallow & crap… is that the single biggest no true scotsman in history? We might have a record on our hands! Ugh, atheists = state worshipping communists, REALLY? Awww and now christianity is bigger & better than wars because of, to quote blackadder, one chistmas pissup. In summary, Atheists are wrong because I say without evidence that they believe in these bad things that I’ve just made up!!!

    Caro started off well, open with a laugh. And another, okay I LIKE her, she starts at about 35 minutes, definitely watch her part. She stumbles over her words at times but has a very good firebrand technique combined with biting comedy. She also manages to stay impressively on point, maybe it has something to do with having facts to back up her points. She’s not too keen on misogyny but that’s women for you </Joke>…

    Stephens began off topic, great start there, ace. Woah after about 2 minutes atheism gets a mention! So atheism is simultaneously dangerous and kind of irrelevant & silly… quite a trick there. The interesting thing is that so far he’s clearly the best public speaker on the panel, makes it even more sad that he can’t raise a bloody cogent point. Not as sad as his inability to read his own dogma & see that there IS bad stuff there rather than the fantasy version he seems to pick from. Stick to the friggin point you moron! His every sentence sounds like a current affair running a ‘society gone to the dogs’ story, wonder if the chaser (which he JUST mentioned) is keeping a tally themselves. “We are confronted with the predominance of a demystified, mechanised mode of science”… err thats kind of the POINT of science… And you don’t have to believe in science, it has proof. Oh look, atheists have no morality!! He implied it earlier but just reiterated it again. Oh and now he has a problem with “Big Porn”, has anyone ever heard that phrase (without it being a reference to the fetishising of overweight people) or is this a strawman he’s built? Ahh bugger it, I’ll put 10 bucks on the strawman, its the safe bet.
    Aww and saying its hypocritical to simultaneously care about the planet but support abortion. Ahhhhh and atheists can’t experience joy? He’s just so darn CUTE in his stupidity, that might be evidence against his assertion there. Wait what??? He’s PRO-crippling childhood disability because that reminds him of the humbling effect of god becoming human? I formally recind my previous declaration of adorable cuteness, I now say that his statement is right next to being evil, or I would say that had I any morality, sadly I’m an atheist… He’s DAMNED sure that without god there’s no good, evidence for this assertion? Rational argument to back it up, the kind you might get in a DEBATE???

    Blackford started out DAMN well, calling archybish out on the special pleading in a funny and informative way. Definitely the best speaker on team rationality and a good counter to Stephens. Oh and he’s calling bullshit on the assumption that atheism is the cause of societal problems. In the discussion of child abuse I’d have liked him to have added mention of arse covering outright criminal obfuscation by the highest officer in the catholic church but it was good nonethless. Oh and he’s talking about the burden of proof, good, that was poorly addressed before. Still wasn’t brilliantly addressed but it was well done.

    The first audience question was a bit wishy washy and rambling, “something might be out there, should we redefine god?”. Generally ignored as it wasn’t really a proper question

    The second audience question was remarkably rambling & seemed to miss the point, implying Rowland was in support of a theocracy which could be implied very vaguely from her talk but it was rather a reach. The worst Rowland said was she didn’t want the state to become an object of worship.

    The third audience question, appeal to emotion about abortion and “Think of the unborn children!!!”, elegantly put down.

    The fourth question was a good one, managed to make archybish pull a pissweak justification out of his arse after trying to rubbish the questioner then rambled on about love. Utterly pathetic & rightly derided by the crowd. Given the volume, I suspect that even some of the religious listeners joined in on the derision.

    The fifth question was rambling as well, essentially saying “everyone believes in magic, we can’t ALL be wrong!” Sorry ma’am, but you most certainly can.

    The sixth question is by an awesome 80 year old, I wish like mad she was my granny! Properly ascerbic & a clear master of taking the piss.

    The seventh question was the classic “something comes out of nothing” argument. Fairly well deconstructed.

    The eighth question asking about atheism as a symptom of nihilism or if it’s a response to it. Was supposed to be answered later but got lost in the talk.

    The ninth question called back to the misogyny of religion “what about the female gods & saints” which was rightfully laughed at because the questioner clearly thought it was going to be his hero moment.

    The tenth question was taking the piss out of Stephens (and I’m not sure the mis-hearing of ‘chic’ as ‘shit’ was real) and a mention of the debate having the wrong question which I was thinking all along given the burden of proof.

      Summing up time!

    Archybish [Jensen] complains that the opposition didn’t try to prove that atheists are right and instead rubbished the opposition. This is not entirely without merit, they could have done it better but his side was demonstrably worse at it often avoiding the point entirely to engage in rambling crap. He was astonished at the request for evidence, apparently because he’s misunderstood the criteria for something to be considered evidence, most notably conflating the popularity of a proposition with the validity of it. People can stop being christian and thats its strength?? What? “We don’t force you to believe on pain of death (anymore), see how nice we are?”. At least he was close to the point.

    Pataki managed to make a joke fall a bit flat & still get a laugh from it. Nicely separates the morality & religion conflation that the opposition was hammering all night.

    Rowland seems to be rubbishing Caro by implying that religious misogyny is a fantasy, especially in the case of the nice and equality driven christianity (yes, she really said that) which is rightly derided by the audience again. Ohhh apparently the resistance to the ordination of women as priests has nothing to do with their gender! Thats a relief… Also dishonestly conflates preaching with giving speeches, as an alleged academic she damn sure should know the difference.

    Caro takes the opposition to task over pessimism about humanity as a species. Nice and firebrandy again with more reenforcement of the increase of womens rights from secularism & an acknowledgement that they essentially forgot to mention homosexuality.

    Stephens is still beating the “society gone to the dogs” angle like a rotting horse and saying there’s no higher values in modern society, doesn’t watch many of the atheist youtubers who go oln about truth and the like, probably afraid of getting some facts in his theology. Ahh yes, more implication of communist totalitarianism as the only concept of the secular state… wanker. I’d encountered his drivel before so I was slightly negatively biased in regards to him but this really reenforced it.

    Hehe, Blackford takes the piss out of Stephens nicely, “evil, immorality, society going down the crapper, therefore: god!” Nicely sums up the lack of addressing the point on the other side which is something that needed to be said very strongly.

    Haha the twitter readout at the end had a damned fine zinger about competition.

    Overall, the debate was a sadly failed attempt to present arguments for both sides. The atheist side stuck mostly to the point and the religious side stuck mostly to the meandering, fear & dissembling angles. A fair win to the rationalists who had better facts as well as better arguments.

    Okay thats probably a lot longer than Kylie’s initial post, suppose I’ll find out if FTB has a maximum comment length…

    • Kylie Sturgess

      1) You’re fantastic
      2) If you want me to do a little reformatting of this, let me know? I think it’s readable enough but I don’t want people to miss getting all you have to say. :)

      • Aliasalpha

        1) Haha thank you, its what I tell everyone but so few people believe me!

        2) Feel free to edit away, my only real editing was cheating the double carriage return because it looked like a giant wall of text without it

        • Kylie Sturgess

          I think it should be okay – I’ll just break up one section because it’s a little blocky, as you’ve noticed (darn formatting… I could see that you were trying to use italics at one point but it didn’t seem to go…)

          • Aliasalpha

            Ahh I went through and triple checked and everything! The only empty italic tags should be the ones I used to cheat the double carriage return. Oh well, thanks for the fixup

  • quantheory

    I found it extremely irritating that all of the affirmative side argued for atheism being aesthetically or morally deficient, rather than actually false. Jensen came the closest to making a real argument, but only in gesturing vaguely at the Jesus, without really explaining why he was so confident that such a person had really done the things Jesus supposedly did (personal experience? hinted at but not explained). But almost everything the Christians said came down to carrot-and-stick arguments to make God-belief seem more appealing, particularly via fear-mongering about the depravity or “grey” nature of an atheist’s world.

    None of them explained how they know God really exists, or even had the courage to admit that they wanted to believe even if theism wasn’t actually true. There was no acknowledgement whatsoever of the possibility that they were debating matters of objective fact, not matters of personal taste.

    Additionally, Rowland and Stephens seemed completely unaware of the fact that people who disagree with them are not one homogenous group. The people who have constructed consumerism and celebrity worship are not the same as the humanists, and in fact they put no evidence forward to suggest that self-identified atheists, in general, care more about Beckham’s underwear. They assume that just because their own brand of spirituality denounces such things, that somehow atheists are causing them. Similarly, because they personally connect their own aesthetic sense with God, they assume that people without a similar aesthetic sense must be atheists, and conversely that atheists can’t have a similar sense without God. This absurd view betrays a lack of curiosity.

    Their one moral objection that seems vaguely connected to reality is the bit about sex, specifically that atheists accept more varieties of it. Even there, they miss the point. Both speakers seemed to assume that they could make a point by just trashing atheists’ sexual ethics. But this ignores the fact that atheists generally consider religious sexual ethics appalling as well. They can’t win by just pointing at the difference. They would have to argue that it’s actually objectively better to say that sex should wait for marriage, and that women should take on a different (i.e. more passive) role from men, and that gay people should never form romantic relationships. I saw no courage at all about arguing for Christian morality. Without being able to defend their own side, the speakers made crude insinuations about us.

    It was all a load of steaming, un-reflective, moralising, arrogant poo.

    • quantheory

      Please forgive the typos; this is me pre-morning-coffee.

      • Kylie Sturgess

        [It's okay - I only spotted one and corrected it and no one will know! Shhh! Thanks for your comment!] :)

  • Rorschach

    Jane Caro maybe needs to work on her style of presentation, but her talk was totally awesome, and the best of the lot for me. Scott Stephens is an angry man.

  • Kel

    It really should be straight-forward, if atheists are wrong that can be shown by demonstrating the existence of God. Arguing for the consequences of atheism in terms of society is also arguing for atheism – god doesn’t need to exist, but we need to invent him.