Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buckner vs. Tzortzis in London

Debate: Islam or Atheism? With Hamza Tzortzis & Ed Buckner on Vimeo

This is a must see debate, if only to get a sense of how Islamic apologetics compare to Christian and Jewish apologetics, with which English speakers are doubtlessly more

Tzortzis runs an argument for the existence of God, which is not terribly original or interesting. He then provides two arguments for the truth of Islam, the second of which runs parallel to that of C.S. Lewis regarding Jesus, claiming that the Prophet is either deluded, a liar, or else he is telling the truth. His most interesting and detailed argument, however, was that the Arabic text of the Quran is so downright amazing that it is evidently a miracle in and of itself, as attested by experts in the relevant field of Arabic textual analysis. At the end of his opening statement, he pulls a dirty WLC-style debate trick, and requests that his opponent tear down his arguments for Islam before building an argument for atheism. Overall, though, he comes off as quite poised and polished.

Buckner leads with several minutes of ingratiation, which were a few minutes too many. Seems like a nice guy, though. Eventually, he gets down to a handful of briefly stated arguments, including an argument from divine hiddenness, theological incoherence, from evil and suffering, from the dominance of demography in theological biogeography, and a few others, none of which are fleshed out enough to make sense if you aren't already familiar with them, and none of which are stated in a deductively valid form.

On rebuttal, Tzortzis hammers away at Buckner, directly and forcefully countering his arguments. Buckner makes a pathetic attempt to counter Tzortzis, and ultimately fails to mount anything resembling a convincing counter-argument. I suspect that the mostly-Islamic audience went away happy and assured that their faith is far more rational than disbelief.

Three lessons may be learned from this debate:
1) Know your opponent's arguments in advance so that you can prepare your counterarguments
2) Do not debate against some religion unless you are familiar with it and the peculiar arguments that it puts forward
3) If your name is Ed Buckner, get off the debate circuit altogether.

Overall rating: 3.0
Believer rating: 4.5
Unbeliever rating: 1.5

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bradley vs Flannagan at Auckland U. (NZ)

Ray Bradley comes not to praise God, but to bury Him. He does a bang up job of it, slowly grinding through the worst bits of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and demonstrating the total depravity and utter ruthlessness thereof. He lectures phlegmatically onward, building up a towering Argument from Evil firmly rooted in scripture and history. He characterizes the God of Abraham as “that than which no viler can be conceived” and does a fairly decent job of backing up his thesis.

Bradley then lays out the following statements for consideration (paraphrasing):
  1. What God proposes for our beliefs and actions are what we ought to believe and act upon

  2. In His Holy Scriptures, God commands various atrocities
    (e.g. killing witches, gays, Canaanites, etc.)

  3. It is morally wrong to command, cause, or condone such atrocities

  4. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good (definitional premise)

  5. A morally perfect being wouldn’t order us to do anything which is morally wrong

Bradley contends that sincere theists have to deny at least one of these premises, for the sake of logical consistency, and then unpacks the consequences of denying any of these premises. At the end of his opening, he challenges his interlocutor (and the audience member) to deny one of the five premises and deal with the consequences.

Matt Flannagan, for his part, defends a version of divine command theory (DCT), and claims that premise (3) assumes to the contrary that God is a moral agent having moral duties, rather than being a moral lawgiver whose commands are moral no matter how arbitrary or harmful they seem to us. He sort of paints himself into a corner here, falling firmly upon one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma. He also tries to reframe the genocidal and homicidal divine commands of the OT Scripture as wholly hyperbolic, and the NT references to a “Lake of Fire” as mere metaphysical metaphor. Nice try, Matt, but that's a no-go unless you can produce evidence that these passages were indeed taken as metaphors by their original audience in the relevant cultural context. For example, did the early Church Fathers who read the NT books in original Greek see it as a metaphor or parable? If so, who did so and in which epistle do they make this clear? Instead of taking such an honest approach, Flannagan cites to modern scholars who have an obvious motivation to soften the harshness of these ancient passages.

During their respective rebuttals, both men do a fine job of contending that the other debater fails to engage with their own particular conception of God and ethics, which seems about right. This is the only notably weak feature of this debate: Each man has defined the words “God” and “morality” in different ways, and thus they talk past each other a bit when arguing about the putative relationship between the two. Overall, though, this is a MUST SEE DEBATE.

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