Tag Archives: debate

You Have Some Serious Issues

In my first post on critical thinking, I spoke a little about values and how important they are. In the next few posts I’m going to look at the various means by which one can dissect an argument into its composite parts.

The first thing that it is important to get a grasp of when listening to, or reading an argument is; what the hell are they arguing about? The subject matter of the argument is often referred to as the ‘issue’. Sometimes they can be easy to spot because the person states the issue clearly, sometimes they are more ambiguous. To give you more of an idea of what an issue is, here are some examples:

  • Should the USA have stricter gun control?
  • Does creationism have any place in a science class?
  • Do violent video games negatively affect children?
  • Should George Lucas be allowed to make more Star Wars films?

As you can see, the issue takes the form of a question. This question is what the person making the argument is trying to answer. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes this question is not actually mentioned directly during the discussion, but one can deduce the issue from looking at the conclusion of the argument. Here’s an example:

“Many people, adults and children alike suffer with obesity and the health risks that come with it. Therefore junk food should contain similar warnings to those found on tobacco products.”

We can find the conclusion by looking at indicator words, in this case “therefore,” other examples of such words include; ‘thus’, ‘so’, ‘ergo’, and ‘consequently’ etc. These words tell us that the following sentence is likely to be the conclusion of their argument. Now if we look at the conclusion above, we merely have to rearrange the sentence a little to see that the issue is; should junk food contain similar warnings to those found on tobacco products?

This all seems pretty straightforward, and probably obvious to most of you. But there are instances in which people direct a discussion off course by going for a different issue than the original one raised—be it intentionally or unintentionally. This is often called a red herring. An example of this would be a creationist stating; “scientists carried out carbon-dating on newly formed igneous rocks and they came out as forty billion years old” during a discussion about whether creationism should be taught in schools. However, this does not address the issue at hand, rather it is addressing a completely different issue of ‘does radiometric dating provide accurate results?’ (rather badly at that). This merely serves to throw the discussion off course, and for that reason it is useful to be able to derive the issue(s) from the conclusion(s) of a persons argument and see if they match up to the original issue that you began with. If they don’t then you can discard them and politely request that the discussion gets back to the real issue.

There are of course some issues that cover a whole range of sub-issues. Does God exist? For example, also covers issues like what is the nature of evidence? And what are the attributes of God? etc. It is important to keep track of these and to try to make it as clear as possible what these are and how they relate to the original issue in your presentation. Once we begin to learn how to de-construct arguments to analyse their components, we can begin to make much stronger arguments ourselves. Looking for, and clearly stating the issue at hand might seem obvious, but it is important in order to argue with clarity and to begin to see whether someone’s overall argument fits together.

As always, comments, questions, criticisms and suggestions are welcome in the discussion thread.

League of Reason Show starts today!

At the end of last month, the notorious YouTube creationist and geocentrist, NephilimFree, posted an open invitation to debate any other user. DonExodus2, author of many popular videos detailing evidences for evolution, accepted the challenge, and they began to establish the debate rules. It was all agreed over Skype, and I myself was privy to some of the conversation and chat between them.

The initial debate subject was Creation and Evolution. Of course, that’s not actually a debate, it’s just the teams. The debate requires a proposition (for example, “Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?”) for which one party can argue in favour, and one against. Without such a statement, NephilimFree’s proposal was akin to establishing a game called Chelsea and Manchester United, and then refusing to further specify what game they are actually playing. Without establishing that they are playing football (or soccer to my American friends) we have no rules in place to determine how the game can actually be won or lost. Likewise, Creation and Evolution (and the long list of other subjects NephilimFree listed he wanted to discuss) is not a debate; it’s just two nouns.

For a couple of days a debate question was established and agreed upon by both parties, as was the issue with moderators. It was shortly after that NephilimFree insisted on returning to his original proposition (despite being thoroughly educated about why it was not a debate) and began accusing DonExodus2 of backing out. I wish to make my it clear that from my position as a third person, it is NephilimFree who I think is being unreasonable, and rejecting previously accepted terms without giving good reasons.

Due to the conflict of understanding, the debate as originally planned will certainly not be going ahead, but perhaps that’s a good thing after all. On Friday, Thunderf00t posted a video detailing the first ever League of Reason Show. It’s an idea that myself and others have been considering for a long time, and since NephilimFree won’t be showing up to BlogTV (by his own admission) we have a good excuse to kick it off this weekend.

The format is quite simple; we will be using Skype and BlogTV to broadcast a group discussion, and taking questions live from creationists, or those of a theistic position who feel they can back up their claims. In order to do this, we have created a LoR Skype account (LeagueOfReason) which must be added before a question can be submitted, and a new BlogTV channel.

The show will last 2 hours, giving everyone time to pop over to watch The Atheist Experience on ustream. We won’t deny that our show is flagrantly derivative of their own, we just hope there’s room for one more. To further rip them off, we will also be uploading clips to our YouTube channel and they should be available on Monday for most people. We are not yet sure how regularly this show will take place, but dependent on the turnout, we would like to make it a weekly affair.

The show starts at 3pm EST, which is 8pm BST. This is 7pm GMT, but remember to take Summer Time into account. In any case, I recommend turning up early of course, and I hope to see you all there in the chat!

The Qur’an . . ? Really?

The day I’ve had.

Cold, so very bitterly cold. Anyone who’s been any closer to outside than their own bedroom knows it’s been cold enough to freeze the smile of a Catholic priest in an orphanage. Cold enough to make people who should know better wear beanies. You get what I’m saying; coldness.

Walking down Kilburn high road (note to foreign types; Kilburn high road is a shopping street in London that contains a pub called The Cock, and this is all you need to know) I noticed a couple of trestle tables with brightly coloured pamphlets. A few people stood behind these tables, picking up a sheet from the ground. Initially I thought they’d been breakdancing, poppin’ some sweet moves in the grindstreet dustcore scene, yo.

Nope. Muslims! Continue reading The Qur’an . . ? Really?

A Debate With A Vague God Enthusiast

Haven’t blogged for a bit, so I’m storming back with a long one. In addition to that, I have a larger than average blog post for your delectation.

My girlfriend and her friend ended up talking about God, and my name got mentioned – presumably because I’m just that awesome. My GF, as someone who’s pretty much had her faiths eroded by my niggling arguments (“Shall we get some wine? Also, why would an all-powerful God allow evil to occur?”) wanted her friend to talk to me on the subject. She prepared a short argument and I emailed her my response.

Something I wasn’t aware of until after I’d emailed her was that she is, apparently, very stubborn and will never let go of her beliefs. Which renders debate more or less meaningless, but hey – who knows?


“What is sense? Why can’t open minded thoughts help you accept a possibility of a greater power/energy source named as god?”

I think my GF gave you the wrong impression of my perspective on this issue. I accept the POSSIBILITY of God, or a higher power, simply because it would be scientifically hypocritical to state with certainty that it could NOT exist. Until every iota of the universe has been catalogued, which is almost certainly something we will never do, we cannot posture with certainty on such matters. To state something CANNOT exist is a faith-based position, albeit anthetical to faith IN a God, and as such is a position not often adopted by intellectuals.

So, I can accept the possibility. But with a complete lack of any positive proof, there is no point considering it further. An inability to disprove something is not adequate proof FOR it, otherwise you would have to give equal credence to absolutely every unfalsifiable hypothesis anyone ever makes. Along with your concept of God, you’d have to grant the equal chance of everyone else’s concept of God, along with all supernatural claims. This is without even going into the logical paradoxii that arguments for God tend to invoke, which I’ll go into a bit later..

“Why can’t there be a god?”

I’d need to know more detail about your concept of God to answer this. However, in general, God creates more questions than it answers. Simply using God as a catch-all answer to the mysteries of the universe is unrealistic, because you then have to explain God. You end up with paradoxii of omnipotence, problems of free will, problems of omnicognisance. So tell me more about your perception of God – is it conscious? Insensate? Does it have a specific purpose? What powers does it possess? Is it immortal/eternal/invincible? Is it limited in any sense?

Until I have more detail, though, the simple answer is there COULD be a God – but it’s so vastly unlikely, so internally inconsistent and contradictory by most human accounts, that there’s no point in pursuing it. As we on the internet say, pictures or it didn’t happen. The onus of proof is ALWAYS on the other side to substantiate God – NOT on me to disprove.

“By opening your mind and thoughts you accept possibilities, by accepting possibilities you become more knowledgeable, and by being more knowledgeable you are naturally more intelligent.”

Accepting possibilities is fine. It’s what drives scientific endeavour and progress. But you don’t actually become more knowledgeable until you have proved these possibilities as something workable. There’s some famous quote, I think from Richard Dawkins, which is more or less “Be open-minded, but not so open that your brain falls out.” Wondering how things work and having a spirit of enquiry keeps discovery constant; however, that is no reason to hang on to the impossible or the unworkable. The historical precedent is that poorly understood natural phenomena attributed to the supernatural (for example, the various cultural pantheons to whom natural forces and processes were attributed via individual deities, as opposed to monotheism where a single entity controls everything – this seems to be what you’re postulating) eventually become explained by scientific means. The age of simply hypothesising something which sounds about right is long gone. The age of empiricism demands proof, repeatable observation, before a possibility becomes workable. Otherwise the whole thing simply collapses in disarray under the weight of countless “possibilities” which can only be accepted because they cannot be completely disproved.

That is the nature of science, of course. It operates on inductive reasoning, on extending an assumption from a necessarily limited sample group. However, deductive reasoning – which begins from an axiomatic statement and is thus considered to be more reliable than inductive logic – is never grounded in the real world. Only logical and mathematical constructs can be axiomatic. A famous deduction is “All are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.” However, this deduction relies on inductive empiricism for its axiom. The only way of looking at the world and the universe is by the scientific method; only abstracts, like logic and maths (human constructions) produce axiomatically true results – and these results are definitionally divorced from the real world.

“Where did the first energy source come from?”

We’re working on it 🙂

We don’t know. The origins of the universe are pretty trippy to consider. However, given the aforementioned historical precedent of supernatural explanations being superceded, it’s reasonable to assume that we will eventually know – and not knowing NOW doesn’t mean we will NEVER know. Also, not knowing the origins of the universe is comparatively simple when compared to using God as an explanation and then trying to work out how God created itself, or all the other attendant problems with using God to explain anything.

“Do humans have any energy source beyond physics? Why? Why not?”

If human beings have an energy source beyond physics it’s pointless to even speculate as it necessarily wouldn’t be something we could even detect. If we could detect it, it would be an aspect of known physical laws and not metaphysical or supernatural in nature. So, no, humans do not have an energy source beyond physics because the question doesn’t have any actual meaning – you’re asking to verify something which definitionally, as soon as it is verified, STOPS being beyond physics.

“Bear in mind that without self-evidence there is none. With no evidence, you rely on belief. Therefore proof is belief. If belief is your source of proof why can’t you believe in god and use belief as proof.” (I nearly pooped myself when I read that argument.)

That’s a little too much of a logical leap though. Proof is NOT belief. Proof is proof. Belief implies some kind of dependence on the believer for continuation, and gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. Scientists don’t rely on belief or faith, and neither do the things the scientific method discovers.
Your argument dictates that, if belief is a proof, EVERYTHING is real and possible. Jeremy, the unicorn inside Jupiter who controls gravity (but only in this solar system) is real because I have belief in him – and thus proof. And, of course, the concept of God that I believe in that forces all possible Gods to NOT exist (including yours) must be real, because I have belief.

Belief is not the source of proof for scientists, or for me. Repeatable, observable testing and evidence is proof. Proof that is consistent with all previously gathered research. Using belief as proof not only invites a great deal of confusion, it’s demonstrably untrue, and it indicates a lack of any REAL proof for claims. If your proof is belief, you are admitting that you have no concrete evidence on which to go on.


So now, we wait . . .