Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fox vs. Behe on the radio (UK)

I really shouldn't review this show on this blog, because it was a debate between Christians over which particular view of creationism one should take. Keith Fox argued for evolution acting on countless generations of life over eons of time via natural selection acting upon random divinely-permitted mutations within a divinely-finely-tuned universe, while Michael Behe argued for evolution acting on countless generations of life over eons of time via natural selection acting upon non-random divinely-directed mutations within a divinely-finely-tuned universe.

Um, yeah. Huge theoretical gap there, with loads of room for argument. You may safely skip this one, unless you want to hear two biochemists arguing about theology.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ahmed vs. Peoples on the radio (UK)

This debate focuses on a moral argument for the existence of god, and ultimately comes down to an inference from moral intuitions to universal divine commands or divine moral preferences.

Cambridge philosopher Arif Ahmed debated Christian philosopher Glenn Peoples on Premier Christian Radio, on the topic of moral arguments for god.

Roughly, Peoples makes following argument:

1) If moral facts exist, they must have either a supernatural or natural basis
2) Moral facts do not have a natural basis
3) :. If moral facts exists, they have a supernatural basis
4) The most plausible supernatural basis of moral facts is a supernatural person
5) :. If moral facts exist, they are based in a supernatural person
6) Moral facts exist
7) :. A supernatural person exists

Editorial comment - This argument heavily loads the dice by taking moral facts to be propositions in the mind of a divine being, and then equivocating between moral facts (thus defined) and the ordinary human moral intuitions shared by most everyone who is not a sociopath. The obvious naturalist response might be that moral facts ought to be derived from causal connections between certain actions and their probable results.

Ahmed retorts to Peoples formal argument firstly by denying premise (6), explicating his honest (if highly unpopular) view that moral facts are not really facts in the ordinary sense of the term. He basically makes the case that all actual moral imperatives are actually of the form "If you desire X then you should do Y." They both back and forth on the nature of morality for quite a bit, calming, politely, and without zinging around cheap one-liners (ala Hitchens or D'Souza). Incidentally, Peoples fulfills Godwin's Law around 20 minutes in.

Overall, this was a high-quality philosophical debate and discussion, relatively free of rhetorical flourishes, personal attacks, and other extraneous verbiage. Both guests are focused and well versed on the topic at hand, while the radio host is clearly and humorously out of his depth. Definitely this one is recommended listening.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beahan vs. Knechtle in East Lansing, MI

This debate between apologist Cliffe Knechtle and atheist Jeremy Beahan took place at Michigan State University and ranged over a vast variety of topics, from general arguments for and against theism, to free will, to incompatible properties of god, to in-depth historical analysis of the gospels and other historical sources. Almost all of the usual arguments are covered, and then some, because the debate format demanded short bursts from each speaker under very strict timekeeping.

For once, an atheist clearly owns an apologist, and that despite the apologist's usual appeals to cleverly unsound arguments, irrational intuitions, and personal outrage. Jeremy calmly and methodically dismantles Knechtle's arguments, quickly and effectively showing precisely where such arguments are either invalid or unsound. Accordingly, he has been added to my atheist debate dream team, alongside Arif Ahmed.

This is a must hear debate, and the only thing keeping it from a 5 star rating is that Knechtle occasionally makes some of his arguments in a weaker form than I'm used to hearing elsewhere. You should probably listen to it now. Share and enjoy!
  • Overall rating: 4.5
  • Believer rating: 4.0
  • Unbeliever rating: 5.0

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Melville vs. McGrath on the radio (UK)

For the most part this episode (mp3) fails to spark an actual debate, certainly not a debate about the so-called new atheism. Melville, the atheist proponent, argues primarily for secularism. He also dismisses Sam Harris as a reactionary Islamophobe before going on to characterize an Islamic upbringing in which one book has all the answers as "a nightmare scenario." Melville also criticizes prominent atheists for being too shrill and blunt, which is just accomodationist drivel. Around 45 minutes in, the Melville and McGrath finally get around to having something resembling a debate, but not about the subject of the new atheism, and even then Melville remphasizes that he is not defending any particular truth.

I'd have preferred a discussion which focused on some particular truth claim and examined the evidence for and against it. Perhaps that happened once or twice in this episode, but only incidentally and in passing.