The video has finally made it online! As promised, here’s Matt’s debate with Jay Lucas, which I recapped earlier. Unfortunately, the audio is a little crappy, but I haven’t managed to find it anywhere else.
Last night at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, I carpooled over with a couple of friends from the Capital Region Atheists & Agnostics meetup to attend a debate between Matt Dillahunty, president of the Atheist Community of Austin and regular host/co-host of The Non-Prophets and The Atheist Experience, and Jay Lucas, an evangelical Christian apologist and director of The Isaac Backus Project, which is described as “an apologetics ministry dedicated to equipping and encouraging Christians to declare and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Today I saw a video that disturbed, depressed, and angered me. It’s a clip showing starving, shriveled, polio-crippled children in Somalia who have been abandoned to die. It’s just as bad as it sounds.
If you really want to see it, go here. (Warning: that site has some very NSFW ads.) But be prepared to cry.
It’s a great example of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is familiar to most people, and can generally be summed up as “why does God allow bad things to happen?” Of course, so far as I can tell, there’s no god to blame. Bad things happen either because of nature of because of the actions of other living things (especially people). In this case, it’s a complicated geopolitical problem involving the failure of food aid programs, the lack of a functioning government, the greed of regional warlords, and so on. It’s a situation that desperately needs to be resolved, but we typically feel helpless to resolve it because there’s little any individual person can do other than call attention to it.
Anyway, back to the problem of evil. Continue reading
Regardless of what kind of theist I’m talking to online, I tend to run into a recurring argument in favor of their god:
As far as I can tell, this kind of argument underlies all of apologetics, from William Lane Craig and Frank Turek to your typical evangelical Christian who’s just learning how to argue for what they believe.
This leads to something that’s been bothering me for a long time. Basically, it’s this: It’s all well and good to argue for a model which is consistent with reality. Given a good enough argument, I could even agree that a particular god concept could fit with what we understand.
It really doesn’t matter how clever an argument a theist has for a particular model of God. This is an argument for a model, not for a being that actually exists. It’s a concept, not something real; that is, it’s just a map, not the territory.
The thing about concepts – “maps” – is that they’re not bound by reality. At best, a map is a reduced depiction of reality. At worst, they’re crude approximations – simplifications of reality designed to help us find the easiest explanation without having to bother with any of the details.
Maps necessarily can’t tell us everything about the world as it is, since any map that reproduced every part of reality would be indistinguishable from reality itself. They can be useful tools for finding our way around, but we should never confuse them for a perfect representation of the world as it actually is.
So, really, it doesn’t matter how well a theist can argue that their model of god is consistent with reality. An intricately detailed map of where we live is still not the actual place where we live. Theology of all stripes, no matter how simple or sophisticated, can only ever boil down to a process of map-building; since it’s independent of any investigation into what actually exists, it can’t tell us what exists – only give us descriptions of ideas that seem to fit with the limited set of information we have.
There’s another pesky detail about maps: we can create maps of places that don’t actually exist. So far as I can tell, the apologetics for gods of all stripes are of this type: maps of man-made concepts, with no reflection in reality.
The following are pulled pretty much verbatim from the notes I took during Frank Turek’s talk back on the 11th of this month. There was a lot more that I objected to about what Frank said – largely, his misrepresentation of the state of our current scientific understanding of things – but I couldn’t possibly write it all down fast enough. So… here goes.
Frank Turek, professional Christian apologist, founder of the Cross Examined website, and co-author of the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, recently paid a visit to the University at Albany to give a talk to the Impact Christian Fellowship on the evidence for the existence of the Christian god. I learned about his talk from a student on our local atheist meetup’s mailing list. Having read Frank’s book a while back, I figured it would be worth checking out.
Every week, the Atheist Community of Austin puts out a great public access TV program called The Atheist Experience. The show broadcasts live online at Ustream at 5:30 ET pretty much every Sunday. Typically the show features a pair of hosts discussing a subject related to atheism, skepticism, critical thinking, separation of church and state, and so on, followed by a period where they take calls from the audience. This week, though, they featured famed Christian apologist Ray Comfort (he of Banana Man fame). Continue reading