A “debate” video posted August 6 by the Friendly Atheist blog actually gave me heartburn, despite the fact that I’ve successfully taken a very effective heartburn medication for years.
The video is that annoying (see it below).
The event, which organizers characterized as a “dialogue or discussion” more than a formal debate, was staged last month at the Fairmount Music Halls in Fort Worth, Texas, between atheist and magician Matt Dillahunty, one of several rotating hosts of The Atheist Experience webcast, and Christian apologist Blake Giunta.
A ‘debate simulator’
Giunta founded the website Beliefmap.org, which the site describes as “an advanced debate simulator for exploring the question of God’s existence and Jesus’s resurrection.” For about 15 years he has “been studying these debates and cataloguing the academic responses and counter-responses … to evangelize and aid the public in navigating their way to belief in Jesus.”
The Dillahunty-Giunta debate discussed, unfortunately, the non-issue of whether faith can ever be rational.
The only way belief in supernatural propositions could ever be viewed as remotely rational, of course, is when someone muddies the waters of discourse with esoteric and untethered semantic sleight of hand to try and make them seem rational. Which is exactly what Giunta attempted, while courtly Dillahunty, necessarily dragged into his opponent’s semantic swamp of speculations from time to time, stuck to evidence-based, real-world arguments in which “rationality” always requires at least some materiality to be a useful term.
In short, no substance, no divinity.
My little red flags of wariness went up right off the bat, when Giunta presented a few minutes of introductory remarks preceding the actual “dialogue,” in which he layed out his “general strategy” in not debating Dillahunty. He pointed out that three terms needed “elucidating” before discussion could begin in earnest. Those, he said, were “what we mean” when we use the terms “faith,” “rational” and, curiously, “can.” As in “can” be rational.
Note that Giunta did not refer to what the terms actually mean, like in a dictionary, but to what people might mean when using them, which is a whole other thing. It’s like thinking that asking a Ku Klux Klan member the meaning of “racism” is equivalent to asking a random lexicologist. The Klansman might very well see the term as an unfair, exaggerated slur on Southern culture, whereas the word expert would presumably just state the neutral dictionary meaning. But “racism” actually means something specific and inelastic.
In his opening statement, Giunta said:
“I think there’s actually a widespread misconception among atheists, at least a lot of the ones in the internet community, about at least what Christians mean by faith … do they mean faith without evidence?”
Giunta claimed that 91 percent of Christians don’t think they have faith without evidence, whereas 72 percent of atheists think that’s what they’re thinking. Dillahunty said, sure, nobody thinks their beliefs lack evidence, whether that’s demonstrably true or not. Undeterred, Giunta added:
“So there’s sort of this disparity between what Christians actually mean and what can sometimes be thought of as faith. Typically, I know in the internet community faith is often understood to be with the qualifier ‘blind faith,’ but that’s not what [Christians] mean.”
This is disingenuous on its face. Since there is zero substantive evidence confirming the existence of divinity, and since humans are biologically equipped only to confirm what is material (not ethereal), then any human who chooses to believe in what cannot be proven to exist anywhere must necessarily be believing “blindly,” as it were, without corroborating evidence. Just because we “see” things in our minds doesn’t count in rationality.
Is faith blind?
Christian faith, therefore, can only be blind faith. The only fact existent in such faith is that people demonstrably have faith, not what they have faith in. The latter is permanently unknowable in the real world, no matter how real it may seem in our imagination.
This is where the dialogue became even more mired in the quicksand of apologist semantics. Giunta said Christians normally use “faith” in “sort of folk terms,” and mean “trust.”
“That’s all Christians typically mean when they say that they have faith in God, and I think this makes sense, too, biblically. So, if you look at the Bible, there it’s just very clear that it means faith. If you look at like secular dictionaries and encyclopedias on the Bible, like the six-volume Yale Anchor Bible commentary, it’s gonna say straightforwardly this is what it meant for the early Christians and up to Christianity today is faith. The same thing for the Oxford Companion to the Bible. It’s gonna show the same thing, and this is easy to show as well because the Greek word for faith — mistis — just means “trust.”
Returning to the question at hand — must faith in invisible divinities be blind? — it actually makes no difference whether anyone has faith or trust in inaccessible, omnipotent beings. Without some material evidence, it can only be a blind, meaning wholly imaginary, assumption. No matter how you define “faith” or “trust.” So to even ask whether faith is rational makes no logical sense. It’s like asking whether it’s rational to have faith in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
In this way, Giunta channels President Trump in that he throws out red herrings to distract from the essential problems at hand. Look over here! This word is ill-defined! Look over there! Meaning is what we mean, not what the dictionary says!
Still, you can’t conjure divine phantoms in reality just with semantics. There needs to be parting seas, raised dead, water made wine. Like that. All irrefutably verified and corroborated in reality. At least in the world I live in.
The polite, professorial Dillahunty spent a good deal of time in his introduction politely parsing the terms “faith” vs. “trust” vs. “confidence,” which failed to add progressive value to the discussion but allowed Giunta’s semantic chaff to confuse everything before the actual dialogue began. Dillahunty reasonably concluded that “faith” is how Christians and everyone else tend to label religious belief, and it’s different from the other two terms because it is about absolute acceptance rather than comfort in anticipating something far more qualified and temporal, such as whether it will rain tomorrow.
Giunti also offered the concept of faith as “justification” of itself, which he pointed out comes from Hebrews 10 in the Bible, as if the older ancient text is the more credibility it gives beliefs in the present. Dillahunty countered that there’s simply no evidence of that.
The entire discussion was like that. In trying to argue that faith in divinities can be rational, Giunti labored mightily to redefine terms in a way that faith in nonexistent beings could be subjectively deemed reasonable, while offering zero evidence to confirm anything in reality. Dillahunty dutifully gave the atheist manifesto that the existence of anything requires material substance, demonstrability and provability to be reasonably considered real.
What’s the point?
My question is, why are we still discussing whether nonsense makes sense?
We’re discussing it because faith is so deeply embedded in Christian DNA that despite millennia of excellent reasons to not believe, they cannot stop.
And because there’s nothing solid in all of Christian history to prove with finality the existence of deities and heavenly realms, apologists must stoop to semantics and playing games with meanings to perpetuate the holy illusion. Trying to illogically sneak reason into irrational theology is indefensible at best, dishonest at worst.
To be clear, when Christians talk about “faith,” it is absolute and “blind,” not a tepid “trust,” despite how apologists and theologians might try to confuse language. God is not a partial enterprise, after all, especially for true believers.
If someone actually parts the Red Sea again, though, we can always revisit this.
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