“Does God Exist?” Debate: Rand Wagner vs. Bob Seidensticker

“Does God Exist?” Debate: Rand Wagner vs. Bob Seidensticker December 2, 2014

The video of my November 15, 2014 debate with Rand Wagner in Shelton, WA is now available.

Here’s my summary of some of the highlights.

And here is the video. If you want just my 20-minute opening presentation (“8 Arguments Against God”), that begins at 29:29.


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  • MNb

    Oh s**t, next several days I don’t have 1½ hours to spare. So I only listened to the first ten minutes of your opening statement.
    First of all my compliments for your clear articulation. Though I’m generally a bad listener (I prefer to read) I don’t have any problem following you. I also like it that you discuss philosophy on a very basic, daily life level.
    One remark though. You must train, when asking a question, even if it’s a rhetorical one, to raise pitch at the end of the sentence. That sounds more pressing.

    • Thanks for the feedback. In listening to it, it’s startling how many imperfects annoy me. Thanks for the suggestion on questions. I’ll work on that.

  • RoverSerton

    A well spent 1 1/2 hours!!!! Do we get to see the Q an A? You were (as your picture implies) Superman Bob. Loved your ending about the pebble. That is the best you can start with in the path to reason. So much special pleading (you got to believe…), and an appeal to ignorance (I just can’t imagine how…) on Rand’s part.

    Loved when he brought up irreducible complexity when you had no time to respond. I would loved to hear what he brought up. I suspect the moving tail, the eye or the prehensile penis (well, probably not that one).

    I’d love to debate you on the existence of Bigfoot but you’ve scared me off (lol).

    • Many thanks. The Q&A didn’t get recorded clearly, so they dropped that part. Many of the questions were kinda random, but some were right on target. My favorite: when a young African-American guy got up and asked Rand (I’m paraphrasing), “So help me out here. Why again were God’s rules on slavery in the Old Testament OK?”

      Bam!

      • Giauz Ragnarock

        Which of course makes someone like myself ask you to clarify the “Bam!” with a” so then what?” as such people as I love greater detail.

        • I’ve written quite a bit about how OT slavery was the same as American slavery–chattel slavery + indentured servitude. For example:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2014/08/yes-biblical-slavery-was-the-same-as-american-slavery/

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Sorry, I meant, “How did Rand attempt to answer?”
          I’ve read a lot of your blog.

        • Ah–thanks for the clarification.

          I don’t remember anything except maybe a simple denial of the facts. “Oh, no, biblical slavery was nothing like we had in America”–something like that.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Thank you. Also, I wanted to add that out of the many debates I have watched I really enjoyed your “case for Mormons” for its succinct illustration of how absurd it is that documentation of “miraculous” religion is only given credence when it’s for one’s own particular views. Lastly, I watched a debate that featured JT Eberhard vs some missionary, and I have to say that he is one to study when getting into rebuttals (you did amiably as well, and I think part of the difficulty I perceived on your performance very much had to do with Rand not quite having prepared what he wanted to say putting you on the spot to try rebutting myriad mumblings). I hope to see more debates featuring you.

        • Thanks for the feedback.

          I found a debate with J.T. Eberhard vs. Aaron Brummit from 6 months ago here. Could that be it?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          That’s the one.

        • SparklingMoon

          The Bible is basically a book of revelation of Prophet Moses and his follower Israel prophets.The revelation of follower prophets of Moses was just an explanation of Mosaic Law.

          Prophet Moses himself had struggled for a long time to free the people of Israel from the yoke of slavery of Pharaoh of his time. Therefore it is impossible that Moses or his follower prophets had ever promoted slavery in human societies or it was anytime a part of their revelation.

          It is possible that with the passage of time some followers of Mosaic Law had accepted some customs to follow after having influence of around prevailed culture and may be some later coming people, considering it the part of their religion, had entered in the book of the Bible. If there are some verses in the Bible that seem to promote slavery then it is mistake of those misguided followers who intentionally or unintentionally had made them a part of the Bible, otherwise the practical example of prophet Moses was enough for his followers to avoid such activities of making other human beings their slaves

          Secondly, in old ages slaves were a common part of human society as today workers are hired in factories or offices as in old ages slaves had been bought by rich people to run their business. Secondly, in old ages people who have no other source to fulfill their fundamental needs of daily life also used to sell themselves for their survival.

          It was a common tradition to buy and sell slaves as rich people always had a need of helpers for their daily tasks. According to the Quran prophet Moses (before his prophethood) had also worked like a servant for a long time of seven years in a family. As there were mostly tribal systems in old times therefore a conquered tribe after a war used to make slaves.

          I mean slavery was a common tradition and we can say that Mosaic Law had taken the first step against this prevailed evil to remove it from human society.The teachings of the Bible had tried first to finish it among the people of its first addressers; the people of Israel. As it states in Leviticus:

          ”35 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.36 Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.37 You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.” (Leviticus25:35)

          Mosaic Law had provided foundational principles to people of Israel to improve their humanity and society step by step. The only conception of slavery in the Bible is acceptable where some people find no other option except to become slaves for their survival. It is condemned in the Bible to make people slaves by force or to adopt it as a business :“Anyone who kidnaps someone and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. (21:16)

  • Blizzard

    Yeah where the Q&A! Good job knowing a lot of stuff. Wow.

  • KarlUdy

    Well done Bob. You acquitted yourself well and I have to say that if I were judging I would give you the victory in this debate. Rand Wagner certainly did not appear to be an experienced debater though. His initial presentation was okay (though not excellent), but he seemed to really flounder when it came to rebuttal and it was hard to get much sense out of what he was saying.

    I think he made a real tactical error in confronting your initial presentation. He should have ignored most of your arguments as they were Christian-specific, and only dealt with your arguments that dealt with the debate topic of “Is there a God?” Maybe you threw him off by giving him arguments he wasn’t prepared for.

    Regarding his arguments, he never really made the point regarding caused/uncaused, and you had him clearly on that, especially when you introduced quantum physics. However, I didn’t find your rebuttal of Valenkin’s argument on the beginning of the universe persuasive. Your argument seemed to boil down to “Valenkin made assumptions, we can make other assumptions” which sounds like you just don’t like his conclusions.

    Regarding his points on DNA, I think he made another tactical error. In my opinion, he should have focused on the language-like aspect of DNA. This would have cut right through your “junk-DNA” arguments, and he could have even compared Hamlet with the Yellow Pages to illustrate that length doesn’t necessarily correlate with complexity.

    I don’t think the argument of God as the only possible source of truth was really dealt with adequately, but there probably wasn’t time with everything else that was discussed.

    • That’s very generous of you; thanks.

      I agree about Rand. Nice guy. Earnest in his beliefs, I’m sure. But so often even in the major-league debates, one or both of the participants is not familiar with the rules of formal debate.

      Yes, he could’ve slipped away from some of the arguments by assuming “God” was a deist god, not necessarily Yahweh.

      I had something of an advantage because I’m well aware of the obvious Christian arguments, and I chose colorful, understandable, but off-beat arguments on my side. On the other hand, all that was on my web site, and he told me that he was familiar with it. So he had the chance to see all those arguments.

      Valenkin himself rejects the idea that the BGV theorem hands much of a victory to the deist, and it was handy that I had that quote of his at hand. There could be a wide difference between what I should’ve said or thought I said with what I actually said, but I hope I said that the BGV theorem is based on assumptions. If those assumptions don’t hold, then BGV goes out the window. (This is Sean Carroll’s point.)

      Tell me more on your thoughts on the DNA argument. You’re saying that you’d just accept that DNA is full of junk, but so what? I assume you’re saying here that it still has plenty of good stuff, and that is the information that points to God? Clarify your point.

      My point was simply to argue that, though DNA could well have come from an intelligent creator, the junk in DNA rejects the Design Hypothesis.

      • MNb

        Sean Carroll on the BGV theorem:

        http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2012/09/25/let-the-universe-be-the-universe/

        Frankly I don’t see the problem here for any atheist. Why would the eventual fact that the Universe (or Multiverse) had a beginning be an argument for god?

        • Pofarmer

          Becuase something had to begin it. Duh.

        • MNb

          Thanks to Quantum Mechanics we know that’s a non-sequitur.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, what started quantum mechanics Mr. Smarty physics guy?

        • Getting beyond the problem of asking what caused or came before a point the defined the beginning of time, the apologist will point to the multiverse or laws of physics or whatever that came first and do the First Mover argument to demand what caused that.

          But of course, the First Mover problem applies to him. Strangely they never seem to be troubled when they “solve” a difficult physics problem with some ad hoc supernatural bullshit.

          Our own Greg G. said: “WLCraig has argued that there can’t be an infinite regression of events going into the past in order to say the universe had to have a first event. That argument implies that God had to have had a first thought. Setting aside the question of what the first thought was, if God had no beginning, then he existed for an eternity without thinking before his first thought.”

        • MNb

          “But of course, the First Mover problem applies to him. ”
          Of course. The First Mover argument has several problems. This time I only mentioned one. Greg G’s remark – due to Disqus s**king I had missed it, so thanks – is indeed another.

        • MNb

          I surrender.

        • Are you referring to the Copenhagen interpretation of causeless beginnings?

        • MNb

          All interpretations of QM bar one are probabilistic, hence postulate causeless beginnings. The exception is the De Broglie-Bohm interpretation, but that one has its own problems.

        • curtcameron

          “Why would the eventual fact that the Universe (or Multiverse) had a beginning be an argument for god?”

          It’s one of the premises of William Lane Craig’s argument for God. He uses the Kalam argument to say that anything with a beginning needs a cause, and he uses the BGV theorem to say that the universe had a beginning.

          My interpretation of Sean Carroll’s gutting of this argument is less about assumptions, and is just about particular models. We have various models of the early universe, and physicists do theorems like the BGV to sort out what kind of world the models predict – that helps us rule out some models and stick with others. BGV was about a particular model, not about all of them.

      • KarlUdy

        Re Valenkin – your first rebuttal was effective. Your second rebuttal seemed more vague. I’m always a bit wary when someone tells me that different assumptions could be made but doesn’t tell me what they are, after all you could be resting your argument on an assumption that would be rejected by most rational people.

        Re DNA – I believe the most persuasive argument re DNA is the fact that the encoding with the four DNA “letters” is a method of transmitting complex information. The fact that the letters of our
        alphabet could be arranged in many meaningless ways adds significance to the times when they are arranged in meaningful ways (ie words) because such arrangement is a strong indicator that the meaningful arrangements in the appropriate context are the result of intelligent communication. The existence of junk DNA is not problematic, and both you and Wagner seemed to be in
        agreement that what we now see as junk could turn out to be useful in a way that are yet to decode. Going back to my example of comparing Hamlet with the Yellow Pages. That the Yellow Pages is longer than Hamlet is not enough in itself to say that the Yellow Pages is more complex than Hamlet – Hamlet has a unity of composition and depth of meaning that most people would agree surpasses that of the Yellow Pages. You could even say that large amounts of the Yellow Pages are junk, but such an argument would not detract from firstly the fact that parts of the Yellow Pages are clearly not junk, and must be attributed to intelligent composition and moreover, that junk in the Yellow Pages has no bearing on our conclusion that Hamlet is a work of intelligent composition, even though both of them are made up out of the English language.

        I also believe that your argument that so-called “junk DNA” fails the design hypothesis fails because we have many examples of design with superfluous features. There is an artistic aspect to much design, and many features are included for no reason other than that they are aesthetically appealing. As another example, when you order a package from Amazon, much of the box is often filled with junk, and this is deliberately and intelligently so. With your background in computers, you will also be aware of many reasons why programmers will include lines of code that don’t do anything, maybe because they are remarks, maybe because they are reusing code, maybe to allow for future development of the code, or for several other reasons.

        • Let me (again) admit my limitations. I get my physics from the physicists.

          This question is one where physics has no consensus view. Maybe nothing could and did create everything (Lawrence Krauss), for example. Here, my point about BGV being built on changeable assumptions came from Sean Carroll.

          The fact that the letters of our alphabet could be arranged in many meaningless w ays adds significance to the times when they are arranged in meaningful ways (ie words) because such arrangement is a strong indicator that the meaningful arrangements in the appropriate context are the result of intelligent communication.

          Letters can be arranged in meaningful ways. We humans have invented the ways that letters of alphabets can be arranged.

          Maybe DNA is the one counterexample to the idea that intelligence guides interesting placement of letters. But this shouldn’t cause you heartburn since you’re comfortable with single counterexamples. All minds reside in organic matter … except, apparently, for the mind of God.

          The existence of junk DNA is not problematic

          Junk DNA sweeps away the Design Hypothesis. When we look at DNA, no, we don’t see the hand of a designer. Despite all the coolness, no designer ever puts junk in his design. You can respond that that’s due to natural processes. I’ll agree. But then it’s turtles (natural processes) all the way down.

          That the Yellow Pages is longer than Hamlet is not enough in itself to say that the Yellow Pages is more complex than Hamlet

          Depends on how you define “complex,” I guess. Looks more complex to me. But perhaps you have a different definition in mind.

          You could even say that large amounts of the Yellow Pages are junk

          I wouldn’t. Boring yes; junk no.

          … but such an argument would not detract from firstly the fact that parts of the Yellow Pages are clearly not junk, and must be attributed to intelligent composition

          I say that the Yellow Pages are intelligently created because I know how they were created.

          junk in the Yellow Pages has no bearing on our conclusion that Hamlet is a work of intelligent composition

          Yet again, and this is key: I’m pretty sure I know how Hamlet was written. I’ve written novels myself. I get it.

          To conclude “God” to anything takes more than a curious clue. Science has never explained anything with the supernatural before; it’ll take a mountain of evidence, not a curious clue, to do so the first time. Science is admirably conservative.

          I also believe that your argument that so-called “junk DNA” fails the design hypothesis fails because we have many examples of design with superfluous features.

          Designers never deliberately add junk.

          There is an artistic aspect to much design

          And people can quibble over what’s beautiful and what’s crap. Doesn’t matter. In the mind of the designer, all the frills or do-dads or whatever that the critic doesn’t like were put there on purpose. They’re not junk.

          many features are included for no reason other than that they are aesthetically appealing.

          As I just said, as I said in my post on the subject, and as I said in the debate.

          when you order a package from Amazon, much of the box is often filled with junk, and this is deliberately and intelligently so.

          We must use different Amazons. I get packages frequently, and the box is filled either with air or jumbo bubble wrap (that’s fun to step on).

          With your background in computers, you will also be aware of many reasons why programmers will include lines of code that don’t do anything, maybe becaus e they are remarks, maybe because they are reusing code, maybe to allow for future development of the code, or for several other reasons.

          Yet again, when programmers are adding stuff, there are indeed different kinds of lines to add. Show me a line of junk, and I’ll show you something that isn’t the programmer programming.

  • Blizzard

    Dembski leaves room for some junk DNA… and denies the rest! http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/10/design_inferenc064871.html

    Junk DNA won’t ever reject the Design Hypothesis because they can deny deny deny, and/or accept some or all of it if they absolutely have to.

    “Dawkins’s special pleading is obvious, but the point to recognize is that if design — that is, real intelligence, and not just the designer-substitute of natural selection — makes better sense of biological complexity, then that commends the design hypothesis.” (Ibid.)

    Irrespective of junk DNA they will always have “complexity” to hang their hats on, no matter what, until the end of time, or until people grow up (whichever comes first lol).

    • What I’ve seen them do is admit that there is junk but then say that that’s just junk over a flawless DNA underneath.

      My response: fair enough–show me that human DNA was ever that flawless, perfect, junk-free DNA and your argument holds. Problem is, biology denies that human DNA was ever in that pristine state.

      • Blizzard

        Well there you go. Creationists are great problem solvers. That’s a new one on me. Front-loading was another great problem solver. I forget what, but it solved something lol.

  • Rudy R

    Science as not being culturally specific is a compelling argument against the claim that science is just another religion. You did indeed bring something new to the debate.
    If I may be so bold, a better explanation would have been more helpful as to why historians don’t (or can’t) confirm miracle claims. Miracles, by their nature, are very improbable, and in most cases, the most improbable of explanations for the cause of an occurrence. Since historians try to find the most “probable” reason for an occurrence, miracles could never be the reason, simply because it would be the most improbable.

    • Pofarmer

      Doesn’t the fact, or pretty darn near fact, that religion is so dependent on what you were brought up in, a proof that religion is based on comfort and not on facts? I was asked again yesterday. “How has atheism made you life better?” Who really cares? If I wanted to pick the most comforting world view, then I would pick the one with the best afterlife, and that would be Mormon, for me. But, I don’t find Mormonism true, even a teensy bit. So, how do you get it through peoples heads, that just because a belief is comforting, or may even lead to some positive outcomes, doesn’t indicate that that belief has a factual basis? Heck, you can even have rational beliefs that don’t have a factual basis. That’s the whole problem with theology and philosophy without science. You don’t know if an idea is true without testing it, and you can get way off in the weeds based on a false proposition, and most religions are so far out in the weeds it seems pretty much hopeless.

      • Rudy R

        I like how Bob framed how Pascal’s Wager is not logical, in that, how can you expect god to think of you favorably when your belief in him was based on a safe bet, rather than thinking through it logically.

      • Playing by Pascal’s Wager, do you want to believe in the religion with the best heaven or the worst hell? If you could either bet for a good heaven or against a bad hell, which would you choose? I’m sure it would depend on the particular religions’ afterlives.

        • MNb

          “do you want to believe in the religion with the best heaven or the worst hell?”
          False dilemma. I want to believe in the “religion” that promises nothingness. I simply don’t get how Heaven is a gain.

        • Yeah, cuz you’ve never heard some really good lyre music. Played on a cloud, it rocks!

      • That has got to be the most annoying view I’ve encountered. So the idea of there being no god (or whatever) is depressing to some. Does that mean it’s true? I myself used to believe things based on their comfort, before encountering concepts such as “critical thinking” and “evidence” so I;m not judging, but the very idea is absurd when you get down to it. Do people honestly believe the universe exists to make them feel good? Not to psychoanalyze too much, but that seems like a product of our specific, relatively rich, privileged society. I’m sure people in poorer countries have no illusions of that. Call me cynical, but I’d actually be suspicious of any ideas that make people feel overly happy with themselves as they fall into this-believing because that makes them feel good, not due to being true.

        • MNb

          “Do people honestly believe the universe exists to make them feel good?”
          Isn’t it the other way round? The Universe sucks, earthly life is a vale of tears so we set our hope on afterlife? That’s were believers derive their comfort.from, so it seems to me.

        • I’d say so, but that isn’t how people frame it. It’s more like “the universe couldn’t possibly not provide me with a good afterlife! It owes me!” Entitled, much?

        • Pofarmer

          Well I have the most experience with die hard religious fundamentalist Catholics, aka, my wifes family, and also some pretty devout Baptists on my Dad’s side. I guess we’re the black sheep. The Catholics, especially, have been brought up with this whole set of beliefs and rituals, and taught since they could listen that if they just do all this stuff, say all these prayers, perform all these sacraments, they’ll be the ones to go to heaven. It certainly appeals to a certain type of person. There is always something or someone to be praying to, some novena, some Holy Day, on, and on, and on. And that’s before you get to all the superstitious nonsense that they hold on to. Mary in Heaven interacting with Jesus on our behalf. All the Saints doing works for us. Wine and Crackers either literally turning into, or turning into the essence of a 2000 year old Jew. I wish I had had a frank conversation about that last bit before we got married, but, anyway. And all this feeds into the idea of a “Sacrificial life” whatever the hell that is, and on, and on. And they are so emotionally invested in it that they simply can’t step back and look at it. The Church is the body of Christ here on Earth, the very arms and hands of God. Why, the Church is the messenger for God, how could you doubt the Wisdom of the Church.

        • I don’t have much personal experience of that, first being baptized into and taught by a New Age Christian church which apparently believes that doctrine should be kept secret from those “not ready for it” while going to a liberal Presbyterian church-they’re easygoing on such matters. Aside from philosophical discussion both online and in person, I haven’t met many fervent believers. However, a former teacher of mine (at the school mentioned earlier) approached me a couple years ago to ask whether I’d checked out their teachings. I had, and concluded they were nonsense, but hadn’t the heart to say this. For one, he appears to be a true believer who’s spent around 35 years in this church, so what chance was there it would do anything except maybe offend him? Plus, I’m quite non-confrontational, and I didn’t see a way of telling him this without it being viewed as an insult. Since then I’ve met some other people who are in this church who are very nice, but I also don’t bring up my views (one apparently knows I’m an atheist due to someone else telling him, but has not mentioned it). They believe in karma and reincarnation, which I found very unappealing, though obviously they disagree. Particularly odious is their view that every person chooses their life beforehand. It seems like a neat way of explaining away suffering in the world to me, and possibly blaming the victim-after all, they chose it. For me, I don’t find see get what they see in it, but obviously they do. I’m sure they wouldn’t understand how people like us could be happy with no afterlife either.

        • MNb

          “the idea of a “Sacrificial life””
          That’s another christian idea I despise. It’s an excellent mechanism to force people to do what they don’t want, for the benefit of authorities.

        • Rudy R

          Many religions had “Sacrificial life” rituals prior to Christianity, so it wasn’t a Christian idea.

        • TheNuszAbides

          just another hypertribalistic badge, not even inherently religious.

        • It is amazing how big-name apologists will argue that the atheist position is “hopeless.”

          (1) it’s not; (2) so what if it is?? You’re saying, “Christianity is the correct view cuz it’s nicer”?

        • A lot of people (including myself in the past) apparently do think that. The kind of epistemological relativism which this implies doesn’t seem like what Christians would like to get behind, though, because people could just as easily say (and do) “I feel Christianity’s wrong because it’s icky.”

        • Kodie

          But it’s not nicer. They’re always telling us how hard it is to believe such impossible stuff and to adhere to the rules, and that atheism is the easy way out, and we’re just rejecting god because we want to have fun fucking everyone in sight and taking all the drugs and have 15 abortions. I’m not really going to judge anyone but to me that would be an empty life. Why would I reject god – I’m a nice person, I’m a heterosexual monogamous type of person. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. I don’t need commandments or a clergy to remember what not to do. But it’s still supposedly shallow and meaningless, and without god in my life, none of that stuff should feel important or valuable to me, and of course, god will judge me poorly for my “sacrificial” life because I did not buy the good news. I don’t need it, I live just fine without it. Eternal salvation is the meaningless thing. It’s this coupon they hand out so you can redeem it when you die. The church is selling wishes in a jar. You give your life over to us, and uh “god,” yeah that’s what we’ll call him, will take care of you on the “other side”. That will cost you 10% of your gross income annually, half of which goes to the pope’s personal tailor.

        • The Christian says that without the Bible, he’d be an ax-wielding, homicidal maniac? Then please remain a Christian.

        • Kodie

          It’s so hard to remember not to use my ax when I go out in public. I wish it were easier, like asking god for the strength.

        • Rudy R

          Not only do Christians need to be comforted knowing the universe was created for them, but that they need to feel that total strangers love them as well. Sounds like the very definition of an inferiority complex.
          Even when I was a Christian, I didn’t fool myself into believing that I actually loved my neighbors (strangers). How could I love someone I didn’t know? I would lay down my life for those I loved, but I knew I wouldn’t do the same for strangers. The best I could do is respect strangers as long as they respected me. And any Christian who would sacrifice their life for mine would seriously be in need of psychological help.

        • I know of few Christians (or people of any belief) who really express that, precisely because it is so impossible. The Bible itself says “Be perfect, therefore, as your father is perfect.” Tall order. Additionally, if people did follow the actual rules, it would be incredibly impractical and quite detrimental to them. Which tells you right there about the Bible as a source of morality.

      • MNb

        “that just because a belief is comforting ….”
        Fortunately I don’t have that problem exactly because I feel that non-belief (agnosticism also qualifies) is most comforting! That specifically includes after life. It must have to do with something I realized even as a kid – that being dead and nothingness are not to be feared, on the contrary.

        • Kodie

          I take comfort in the fact that the sun will expand someday and destroy everything on the earth. It’s like, if I lose or break something important to me, I think it’s ok because someday everything will be lost. I have no control over the belongings I consider precious, who will value or not value them, or what faddish craft projects they will turn into, but then eventually those things will be destroyed. Billions of years from now when those things are left behind and there’s nobody to care, long after the earth has decomposed and recomposed them, the sun will make sure.

    • MNb

      No, I don’t think that’s a better explanation. It’s rather simple. History is a branch of science and science refuses to accept miracles as an explanation. See David Hume

      http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/hume-miracles.asp

      There is no need to reinvent this wheel.

      • I’ve always wondered what Hume felt is a testimony “of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.” A Christian could easily argue (and probably has) that 500 people seeing the risen Christ (though we’d have to assume that even happened here) would qualify.

        • curtcameron

          Yes, they do argue that, and if we had 500 witnesses, that may be a valid argument. But what we actually have is a claim in a book, a single uncorroborated claim, in a book that has an agenda to convince people in a pre-scientific age and who could not check the claims.

        • I agree, there’s no good evidence that happened, but I’m just wondering what Hume thought of that.

        • MNb

          Probably that one guy making up 500 witnesses is less miraculous than a risen Jesus.

        • I would agree with that, but I’m thinking if, hypothetically, we actually had 500 witnesses’ accounts (though eyewitness testimony has been shown to be unreliable at times).

        • Pofarmer

          If my uncle were a Girl he’d be my Aunt.

        • MNb

          That actually shows the strength of the scientific method – you can think up a long list of what ifs like that. What if 500 witnesses observe something falling upward iso downward? What if they observe a dog giving birth to a cat? Etc. etc.

    • For a blog post, I agree. Exploring why historians say that would be interesting. For a debate, however, it’s best IMO to pare down. It should be fairly easy to agree that historians (for whatever reasons) don’t include the supernatural in their books (at least books informed by the consensus of historians). I’ll build from there.

  • Robb Thurston

    The question is: does Bob Seidensticker exist outside of your mind? When he proves his objective existence, we will consider what he says.

    • MNb

      That point applies to you as well.

    • I’m just a brain in a jar. You can speak for yourself.

    • adam

      Bob actually interacts with the world in a variety of ways that are transparent and open to all.

      He ACTUALLY responds to questions here in the forum, writes books and appears in debates, etc.

      Bob makes his presence here in our shared Reality by his actions, not inactions.

  • Logan Blackisle

    Finally watched the debate; you did very well, I only have a (very) minor quibble – once the opening statements were done, you kept saying ‘uh’.

    Like I said, very minor, but for someone with ADHD, like me, distraction like that can be fatal.

    • Much appreciated. I don’t enjoy watching/hearing myself, so I hadn’t noticed this. I’ll work on that.

      • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

        I thought the points you made were brilliant, particularly points 1 through 5 (in which I, having thought I’ve already been through them all before, actually learned a few additional argument points). Your arguments on junk DNA and cosmology later on were well-stated too, and I especially liked your parting remarks to the audience which heard your address, that one being probably not the friendliest.

        Your delivery did appear to be a bit on the tense side, especially during the opening while you were reading from your prepared statement (it also seemed from the cough as if you weren’t feeling well, which may have been part of the reason). I’m sure you don’t need to hear from me how important delivery is, it isn’t like I could expect to do better myself under the pressure of addressing a hostile audience, but guys like Wagner who do this for a living seem to understand that it works better for them than any facts.

        • Helpful–both the praise and the points for room for improvement. Thanks.

          I’ll still seek out chances to speak publicly, but it’s clearly not my best vehicle. Maybe with practice.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          Oh, please don’t quit! You’ll be awesome with practice!

          Some people argue against accepting debate challenges with theists. I don’t know who these people really are who say that, but if they mean well then they miss the point that you don’t do it to try and change your opponent’s mind, but to influence the audience and those who view it later. I love a good debate, and you sure nailed it with the material, plus it was apparent that you were loosening up toward the end.

        • Elan Morin

          Hello, I watched the debate a few days ago and thought I should stop by and give a little review. I’ll also give some (hopefully) constructive criticism, but I realize that it’s easy in hindsight and that I’m probably repeating things you already know.

          Your opponent had a good opening, making it seem as if science conclusively proved Christianity by quote-mining a few scientists. I think you could have emphasized more the fact that this is not a consensus of science and is just an opinion of a minority. I mean those scientists who claim that science supports the Bible, not those “Universe had a beginning” ones.

          I liked your opening too, especially the “Mormons have a better case than Christians”. I’m going to steal that for future use 🙂

          While the two openings were comparable (from a rhetorical point of view, not factual one), I think you did much better in the rebuttals than your opponent.

          I’ll now address some of the arguments.

          The cosmological argument – you correctly pointed out that causation doesn’t quite work on a quantum level, but I think there is another way to tackle the argument, which may be better in a public discussion, because some people may not accept this explanation.
          The other way to expose the cosmological argument is to ask why is the first cause a being instead of a thing. Your opponent offered several adjectives (spaceless, timeless, powerful, …) but the only relevant one was “personal” as far as I remember. And his explanation for the first cause being “personal” was ridiculous.

          The “reason therefore god” argument. This is one of those arguments where the theist tries to claim copyright of some concept in the name of god. They do it usually for “reason”, “logic” and “morality”. And of course they never forget to mention that “by using reason and having this discussion, the atheist proves god”. The way I counter that is by asking “can god change it (e.g. make 1+1 not equal to 2, make murder moral) – yes or no ?” If yes, then it’s subjective to god, if no, then it’s independent of god.

          I think you did well by explaining that we need some axioms, even though you suffered a little from the lack of time. I would only add that logic and reason are good axioms, because everyone agrees on them, while existence of god is not, otherwise we wouldn’t discuss it.

          I’ll end my review/rant for now. I hope someone will find it useful. I have a few other ideas, for example on the DNA argument. If anyone’s interested, I’ll make another comment.

        • I appreciate the feedback. Thanks for taking the time.

          I chatted with a few people afterwards. Did that include you?

        • Elan Morin

          Oh, I see how my previous comment could be misleading. I wasn’t there for the debate, I just watched the video a few days ago and today it occurred to me to check the comments.

  • SparklingMoon

    The relationship of the whole of creation and of all the worlds to God, the Lord of Honour and Glory, resembles the relationship which subsists between the soul and the body. As all the limbs of the body are subject to the designs of the soul and they all move in the direction in which the soul moves, the same relationship subsists between God Almighty and His creation.

    Although I do not say about the Ultimate Being that He created things and that He is those very things. yet I do say: ”He created all things and He is like those very things. This universe is like a great hall paved smooth with slabs of glass. A Great Power flows underneath it and does whatever It wills. In the eyes of the short-sighted, everything appears as if it existed by itself. They imagine that the sun, the moon, and the stars exist on their own, but all existence belongs to Him.

    The All-Wise has disclosed this mystery to me that the whole of this universe including all its sections is designed to carry out whatever is intended by the Cause of causes and is like the limbs which do not operate on their own, but are supplied with power all the time by the Great Soul as all the faculties of the body operate under the direction of the soul.This universe is a substitute for limbs for that Great Being. There are some things in it which are as the light of His countenance, which serve as light overtly or covertly according to His will. Some are like His hands, some are like His wings and some are like His breath.In short, this universe collectively is like a body for God Almighty and all the glory and the life of this body is derived from that Great Soul, Who is its Sustainer. Whatever movement is willed by that Sustainer, the same appears in all or some of the limbs of that body as may be desired by that All-Sustaining Being.(Elucidation of Objectives by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad)

  • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

    How long have parents been naming their children ‘Rand’? I find that to be a most awful name on aesthetic grounds, but mostly for a reason which has nothing to do with the xtianity of Rand Wagner and Rand Paul, that being the surname of a professed atheist, but horribly narcissistic cult artist who made the first part of her pen name ‘Ayn’.

    • Leah Eld

      I’m partial to a good portion of Ayn Rand’s ideas, especially the emphasis on voluntary interactions between people. I also care for the idea of living for one’s own self and development and, by extension, living for the people that one cares about. That’s what most people do anyway–try to secure their own and their loved ones’ happiness and giving to charitable causes if doing so isn’t burdensome. I think lots of people get scared away by Rand’s choice of words and her sometimes unpleasant personality. She certainly seemed to lump people who are poor into the “parasite” category rather than acknowledge the immense diversity that characterizes people’s situations.

      • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

        It’s fairly true that most rational people take care of those who they care about. It’s somewhat arguable that those who give a high percentage of their disposable income to people who they know nothing of tend to be more woo-driven than sensible, and even that you shouldn’t do this because it may enable those who are evil. Contrarily, it’s also arguable that treating all with the presumption that they deserve your random acts of kindness may bring out more good in everyone. These argument deal with Rand’s arguments pro and con, and both are fairly logical.

        However, the problem for Rand’s followers goes much deeper than her choice of words. She treated altruism, empathetic behavior and social responsibility with utter contempt. The socio-economic ideals which she described were the bedrock of modern libertarians, who deserve what they get from sensible people. Ever since Ross Perot, that party hasn’t managed to produce one single candidate from amongst their ranks who doesn’t exude a manically detached-from-reality state of mental health.

        • Clover and Boxer

          Many are libertarians have consequentialist considerations as well as they think government intervention generally makes people worse off in the short and/or long run, including people who are poor. There are libertarians who even embrace the term “social justice” such as those on Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Even libertarians who don’t embrace the use of the term “social justice” generally think that libertarian policies would greatly help many people including those who are poor.

          In any case, even Objectivists aren’t against charitable acts per se I don’t think. They are against charitable acts if they represent a burden for the person or if the person doing the charitable acts thinks it makes them a good person and validates their lives–this turns a person into a means for others, not an end to him/herself. Objectivists argue that charitable acts should be done because the person values the recipient(s) and genuinely wants to help them. Since I’m not an Objectivist I don’t find it a problem if people feel validated by indiscriminately giving to others.

        • “Clover and Boxer”? I wonder if there’s a pub in Britain named that.

        • MNb

          I’d guess not – the name refers to Animal Farm.

        • Clover and Boxer

          George Orwell was a British author though. I think it’d be a great name for a pub.

        • Clover and Boxer

          There should be! 🙂

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          I never said the Libertarians and Objectivists don’t believe their ideas aren’t what’s best for everyone (including the poor), nor have I stated that any publicly object to charitable acts. Even Objectivists will do that (for example, Neil Peart of the Objectivist fanboy rock’n’roll choir Rush makes generous donations to Canada arts institutions because he likes art). This does not make Objectivists empathetic toward other humans who are struggling, nor does it make Libertarians any less narcissistic. It only points out how self-centered the former is, and how callously the latter will latch onto the most convenient delusion which they can tell each other in their echo chambers (the rest of us aren’t insulated enough from reality to be fooled).

          Are you aware that the person most likely to join the Libertarian camp (or any variation of it) is the entrepreneur? That is a different animal than most of us, in that it scores the highest on the optimism scale. While it takes a high degree of optimism to succeed at what they do on account of the fact that you need to take unlikely chances to create new business markets, the trail is littered with the carnage of those who fail. Those who are still in the game are what they are because they are not_well-grounded_in_reality.

        • Clover and Boxer

          I’m sorry, but I think you are only aware of caricatures and stereotypes of libertarians–that’s just my perspective of the situation from what you wrote. I don’t think we’ll get too far if we continue conversing about it, so I’m afraid I’ll just have to drop it.

          I will say that I’m utterly disappointed, not in you specifically but in people in general; many commenters who are libertarian also say basically the exact same vitriolic and cynical things about other regular people who are conservatives or progressives (e.g. lacking empathy, narcissistic, self-centered, delusional, etc.).

          I would consider myself libertarian. Just out of curiosity, do you think I lack empathy, am callously delusional, narcissistic, or something along those lines?

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          You asked, and I reply, although such a question is undeserving of one. Of course I cannot answer that question knowingly (not knowing you), but what I do know about the idealism in general is that people who follow an ideology will defend it by insisting they aren’t “that guy”, regardless of what the truth is . The basic principles of libertarianism and objectivism have been made plain by those who publicly champion such causes. They stink of irrational chest-pounding, which the clean scent of justice is never strong enough to cover up.

      • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

        You would do better by reading science and philosophy of the non-hack genres. For sound philosophy, try Daniel Dennett.

  • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

    I watched all that was posted, but usually the best part is the questions from the audience – what happened with that?

  • katiehippie

    Finally got to watch this. At the end he is trying to say that humans evolving by chance to have a rational mind is really improbable. So by his reasoning, it’s too unlikely to have happened and so it couldn’t have happened. Yet at the same time his view of a god is even more unlikely. But he doesn’t see that.