Friday, September 3, 2010

The Eureka Live Debate with Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins and Ruth Gledhill recently debated on whether science makes the role of God redundant.  You can get the transcript here.  

It's a good discussion in that Dawkins shows, once again, how ridiculous some of the theist's claims are when they try and merge belief in God with our own scientific understanding of the universe.  Unfortunately, it is in a god-awful chat format, and each participant is trying to respond to questions asked by both the moderator and their opponent from three or four chat topics ago.  That would be bad enough, but there are also comments and questions posed by others, turning the whole thing into a giant cluster-fuck of rapid fire questions for both sides, making it look like both of them can't handle the debate.

It's unfortunate, because Dawkins does an excellent job answering most of the questions asked, and goes on the offensive very effectively.  But no one would know that, because unless you're going to scroll back and forth through the chat to figure out what each person is responding to, it's impossible to figure out what they're talking about.

Note to atheist debaters: DON'T DO THIS ANYMORE.  I honestly think this format isn't convincing, and in fact it probably puts us at a disadvantage.  Theists have quite a knack for talking about irrelevant nonsense in debates, but it often sounds good as a one-liner (I believe Dan Dennett calls these sayings "deepities").  And if you can't nail them on it, it sounds as though they are making a coherent, interesting point.  In one example, Gledhill is talking about choosing to believe something, and Dawkins calls her on it, saying:

Either the evidence supports something or it does not. Choice shouldn't come into belief
To believe P is to think that P is true. The only good grounds for thinking P is true is that there is some evidence for P.

Gledhill responds (either to Dawkins or to someone else asking a question, it's difficult to figure out which):

Sometimes, you don't have much choice, admittedly. But I don't see why you should regard such a choice as not possible.

This is obviously nonsense; Dawkins just pointed out why.  But it sounds reasonable.  By saying "You don't regard this as remotely possible, but I am not willing to be that absolute," she takes a middle ground. This tends to seem more reasonable, unless of course there is an argument against it, such as Dawkins' earlier response.  She never addresses Dawkins actual argument against choosing to believe something.  But if she keeps saying the same nonsense, and Dawkins gets caught up responding to other lines of questioning, it appears as though he is giving up, perhaps even conceding defeat.  

Whenever you introduce confusion into a discussion or debate, it is always going to hurt those with the more reasonable position.  If you require yourself to make reasoned arguments, it takes time to formulate a line of reasoning for your position.  If, however, you're willing to play word games and make your answers sound good, it is much easier to obfuscate your lack of a rational basis to stand on when you aren't called to task.

So seriously, don't do this anymore.  It's at best incoherent, and at worst it gives people who are willing to spout meaningless deepities the upper hand.  
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