Saving Time and Frustration – Assessing the Worthiness of Debating

I feel for us free-thinkers, I really do. We usually have the best arguments, and most of us are willing to admit that we’re wrong when we don’t. Then why is it that when arguing with believers, even when they’re faced with more than enough reason and evidence that they should at least start to question their beliefs, they don’t budge at all. Not only have we not convinced them of anything, they may in fact hold onto their beliefs with more certainty than before. It’s frustrating to engage in a debate, particularly online, for pages and pages, only to be met at the end of the conversation with the equivalent of “You have good arguments, but I still don’t believe you”. A typical and greatly simplified conversation may go something like this:

God-Believer (GB): I believe in God.
Free-Thinker (FT): I don’t see any evidence for God.
GB: You’re going to Hell!
FT: How do you know that?
GB: It says so in the Bible.
FT: Well, how do you know it’s true?
GB: It’s inspired by God.
FT: Well, how do you know that? Lots of other books claim to be inspired by God, they can’t all be true.
GB: Well, I know it in my heart to be true!
FT: People of other beliefs say the same thing, why should I listen to your claims of truth over anyone else’s?
GB: You can’t disprove them.
FT: I can’t disprove leprechauns either.
GB: Well, you just have to have faith

Sigh, another debate with no real progress being made. I’m guilty of the same thing , so instead of repeating the same things over and over and expecting different results, we have to change the method of conversation. Each tangent of the conversation can take massive amounts of time and effort to dissect and explain why each of the premises taken by GB are faulty. For what? Why do we go through this mental exercise over and over when we could be doing something better with our time? We could be playing video games, or vacuuming.

There’s a very strong question – some would say “magical”, but not us of course – that we can ask at the very beginning of a conversation or debate. If they answer the question with a “No”, then they won’t be able to use their main arguing points anymore, because they will have agreed in advance that their points aren’t valid. If they answer this question with a “Yes”, then we can give a quick, efficient, two minute maximum explanation of why they can’t answer the question with a yes while still being a true statement. If they disagree with our explanation, then we’ll know that they aren’t worth our time or effort to bother debating them. Ready?

“Will you be putting forth, as a statement of truth, that faith is greater than reason?”

If they say no, great! Now we can get into a conversation and get some work done. We can have a civil debate, and anytime our opponent mentions faith, remind them that they’ve already agreed that reason is greater than faith. If they answer that faith *is* greater than reason, we can explain to them how this must be false, with 100% conviction.

“Faith > Reason” is supposed to be a statement of truth, but we know that it can’t be. Imagine a friend coming up to you and saying out loud “I have no voice”. You ask what they mean by this, and they tell you about how their vocal cords aren’t working, and that they don’t have a voice because of that. No matter what your friend says, they’re clearly wrong, because you can’t talk without using vocal cords.

In the same way, if it’s impossible to defend the position “Faith > Reason” without using some sort of reasoning, the proposition must be false. The only answer someone can defend this proposition with is “just believe me”. That’s faith. Ask them how they know faith is better than reason, and if they don’t answer with “Faith”, you win! They don’t even believe themselves when they defend faith with reason. Of course, if they do answer with “faith”, then we’ll have saved ourselves a chunk of time to use more productively. Kudos to them for being consistent, at least.

This is the only debate that we should be having. A quick debate about the validity of faith, and if they can’t accept this very simple premise, then it’s not a debate worth getting into. It’s not even a debate, really, it’s just an exercise in fiction. This is also good because it allows us to sidestep all of the “Okay, even if we assume that there is a God…” debates. We don’t have to do it. It’s like arguing with the friend who says that their vocal cords aren’t working. Questions like “Well, how am I hearing you”, “Why is your mouth moving?”, “If it’s not your voice, than what voice am I hearing” will all have answers, which will make little no sense. It doesn’t matter how consistent their story is, it’s flawed at the beginning, so everything that follows must also be false.

Realize that pointing this out will probably make the people we’re debating quite angry. Imagine that you’re being told that you can’t use reason, logic or evidence (all of which are greater than faith) to back up your arguments, it’s the same frustration we generally feel when our logic and reason is dismissed, taking a backdoor to faith. But let’s stop humouring our opponents. It’s an argument that we will never win. We’re using logic and reason, and they’re just making things up. Don’t play that game. Let’s free up our minds for more useful conversations.

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Is objective morality even possible if it is God’s will?

I’m always fascinated by people who know about Euthyphro’s dilemma, but still think that God can somehow choose what is moral without it being completely subjective. It’s very simple, if God needs to think about anything while creating a moral, then whatever he had to think about is an outside source. Let’s forgive the fact that he wouldn’t be omniscient if he had to think of anything. If it’s an outside source, then there’s something outside of God that God used to reason and decide, which means that there’s objectivity, but it’s not God’s choice that the moral was good. If it’s not something outside of God, meaning there was no outside reasoning or evidence, then morals are subjective and mere preferences by any definition. When there is a standard that we can judge God with, then objectivity can exist.

There have been a few criticisms that people have run across, but none of them fundamentally change the issue. If God is ingrained with goodness (and again, did God ingrain himself with this, or was this goodness external), then everything God does must be good. Otherwise, there would be no point of God being fused with goodness, if he can just ignore it. “We can’t know God’s reasoning because he is such a superior being”, is what many people say, but this is nothing more than an attempt to deflect further thought. Remember, if God is ingrained with goodness, then everything God does must be good. Any action that God takes is the most good. So when God punishes people for eternity for disobeying his rules, then this is a good thing.

Many people have a hard time with this, because the instant conclusion that most people jump to is that if it’s good to torture people when they disobey your rules, then why does it not apply to humans? Goodness becomes subjective. The common counter to overcome this issue, is that God trying to teach us morality, is like us trying to teach morality to an ant. Again, thinking about this with a few brain cells for more than a few seconds will help us spot a few important differences. We aren’t holding ants morally responsible for their actions, while God is holding us responsible. This is key, because there are only two possibilities. Either we as human beings are morally responsible, or we are not. If we are going to be accountable to morality, then we should have the capacity to learn morality. Otherwise, God is seen as nothing more than a person who punishes ants that have no comprehension of the criteria that they are being judged by. Do we think it’s just to jail and torture an emotionally and mentally retarded person for killing someone, even when we’ve given them the knife and didn’t bother to make sure they knew the consequences of their actions? Of course not, but then again, we’re not as smart as God, so what we consider morality in this situation may not be the case.

One further objection is that God gives us moral rules that are attainable as humans, but that runs into issues as well. Either we’ll be accountable to the morality that God applies to himself, or we’ll be accountable for a version of morality he thinks that we’re capable of handling. The first option doesn’t speak very highly of the goodness that’s fused with God, as mentioned above. But, if God is judging us by an alternate version of morality than ethics that is not universal, we have a few issues, the most important is that the rules are just made up and arbitrary, and again, subjective.

Thoughts?