Thursday, October 29, 2009

Barker vs. Deen at King's College London

Adam Deen eloquently argues that if people are merely made of matter, then human moral concepts and moral feelings are utterly worthless, because there is no one up in the sky to obey and obedience to authority is self-eivdently the only sort of morality worth having. He stretches this single point out for quite a while, delving into various ideas such as moral subjectivism, accountability, personal taste, and metaphysical determinism. He appeals to several common intuitions for which he provides no evidence whatsoever, such as the idea of libertarian free will. When it all comes down to it, he is essentially yearning aloud to be liberated from the onerous task of moral reasoning by finding Someone to whom to fully submit himself. Incidentally, Mr. Deen is a Muslim, which means "one who submits."

Barker argues that moral feelings are inherent to most people and that we should work to help people not because we value obedience but because we value people themselves.

Overall, it was a satisfactory debate, but I would have greatly appreciated any attempts to drills down into the various motivations for moral action and what they imply for the competing theories of morality.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lewis vs. Tzortzis on cosmology and fine-tuning

Tzortzis starts off with a slight variation on the Kalam cosmological argument, arguing to a timeless, immaterial and personal cause (just as WLC does). He then goes on the the argument from a cosmos finely-tuned for life, and provides a reasonably good presentation thereof. As is usual in such arguments, he rules out chance fine-tuning on the implicit assumption that our universe is the only one.

Lewis takes several minutes of dithering (he is a philosopher after all) before really getting into this arguments, which are essentially rebuttals rather than affirmative arguments for either atheism or agnosticism. With respect to the cosmological argument, he tries to show that the idea of a first cause is incoherent in a closed bubble of finite space-time. Respecting the second argument, he tries to show that basically 'luck happens' to at some places and time, especially given the possibility of an incomprehensibly vast multiverse. He also points out that certain solutions to the problem of evil lead to profound agnosticism regarding the nature of the divine.

Okay, now I just have to say this. Tzortzis boldly and confidently puts forth fundamentally fallacious arguments rooted in premises which are highly intuitively appealing but evidentially bankrupt. Lewis, by contrast, timidly and hesitantly presents philosophically sound rebuttals, in a way which makes them sound weak and timid. When it comes to in-person debates, the personas involved the debate really matter, and I've no doubt that the audience came away believing that Tzortzis wiped the floor with Lewis.

Overall rating: 3.5
Believer rating: 2.5
Unbeliever rating: 4.5

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Underdown vs Berlinski in Beverly Hills

This event wasn't a debate so much as one lecture followed by another one.

Berlinkski takes at least twenty minutes to get around to something like an argument, but he speaks well and tells a good story about magical thinking and scientific progress. He isn't arguing for theism, he is arguing for the legitimacy of the inference to design, both in biology and cosmology. His argument is essentially this: If we cannot yet explain something scientifically, such as the initial conditions of the universe, or the very first living things, or the world of mathematical abstractions, then it may be rational to infer that there is indeed mind behind the universe. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert paraphrasing Bill O'Reilly, "God exists, because I don't know how stuff works."

Underdown points out the difficult of putting God into gaps, namely, that the gaps keep closing and new ones keep opening up. If God lives in episemtic gaps, he surely skips about quite a bit. He also tries to put science (as a field) into historical perspective, and replies to a few more of Berlinksi's points

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hitchens & Fry vs. Onaiyekan & Widdecombe

This debate was produced by the folks at intelligence squared and aired on the BBC, so you know it has fabulous production values as well as a sharply focused topic question, which was this: "Is the Catholic Church a force of good in the world?"

Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan goes first, and basically cites to the medical and missionary services which are provided in the name of the Catholic Church. He gleefully ignores all of the evils done in the name of the church, as if it never happened.

Hitch picks up the ball and runs with it, giving us a sense of just how many lives were ruined by the Crusades, Inquisition, systemic misogyny, forced conversion of indigenous peoples, silent complicity in the Holocaust, rape and torture of children in Ireland, the UK and US. He then drops the f(aggot)-bomb in allusion to the church's institutionalized homophobia. I'm not generally a fan of Hitchens, because I prefer carefully structured logic to explosive rhetoric, but even I couldn't help cheering him on in his well-presented litany of sins both venial and mortal.

British politician Anne Widdecombe is up next, and she decries all of Hitch's accusations as mischaracterizations. She also does a good job of enumerating some of the charitable things that the church has done to move first-world resources into third world nations.

Fry leads off with a kindly distinction between those moral individuals who pursue Catholicism on the one hand and the institutions and doctrines on the other. He then cites to (recently sainted) Thomas Moore's torturing and burning of those who owned English Bibles, and segues smoothly to a litany of moral evils, including the demonization of gays like himself and the lies about condoms which have demonstrably increased the spread of fatal diseases. Even though he is sharing the stage with Hitchens, Fry gets in the best line of the evening, "The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that, in erotic terms, is the Catholic Church in a nutshell."

Overall, this was a fantastic show, and even though no one put forth a rigorous argument with conclusions following from premises or attempted anything resembling a utilitarian calculus of goods minus evils, it was nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable and I commend it to your viewing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lewis vs. Tzortzis in the UK

Hamza Andreas Tzortzis has clearly watched William Lane Craig and adopted his most effective arguments, that is, those which atheists have had the most trouble refuting on stage (as opposed to in print). He does an excellent job of presenting a Kalam Cosmological argument and a variation on the fine-tuning argument.

Richard Lewis makes the typical rookie mistake of going into rebuttal mode right off the bat, instead of giving his own affirmative arguments for metaphysical naturalism. Minus several style and effectiveness points for that. He does get around eventually to the problem of evil, but he even approaches that as if rebutting theodicies instead of outlining the argument in a positive way. Also, I must say that a few his rebuttals are indeed logically cogent, thought they are neither presented in their strongest form nor with a sense of personal confidence.

Instead of having designated rebuttal periods, they go straight into questions, which might explain why Lewis could not resist the opportunity to rebut during his opening time. Alas, adopting this format loads the dice even more heavily against Rick Lewis, on account of the highly devout audience.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Believer rating: 4.5 stars

Unbeliever rating: 2.5 stars