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Kell's Avatar Comment 2 by Kell

Religion is not incompatible with science; "non-overlapping magisteria."


In relation to the recent D'Souza debate; the claim that modernity - science, human-rights, abolition of slavery etc. - developed from christianity.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:00:00 UTC | #77508

Zakie Chan's Avatar Comment 3 by Zakie Chan

Science is almost totally incompatible with religion. I say "almost," but I do not wish that weasel word to be construed as weakness. The only point of compatibility is that there are well-meaning, honest people on both sides who are genuinely and deeply concerned with discovering the truth about this wonderful world. That having been said, there is no actual compatibility between science and religion. --Peter Atkins

I am always curious to see how failed prayer studies are better explained by theism, than atheism. Or how this is explained by theism...

And somehow, magic just never seemed like a very good explanation for anything.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:08:00 UTC | #77513

JackR's Avatar Comment 5 by JackR

Well, there are the common big ones like the many varieties of argument from design, first cause etc.

There's also the problem of evil - something I've debated at some depth.

"Atheism is a religion and you're as bad as the fundamentalists"

"That's not my God you're criticising"

"Why do you care about something you claim not to believe in?"

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:10:00 UTC | #77516

phasmagigas's Avatar Comment 4 by phasmagigas

putting heads together as such has got to be a good idea. this could be a very interesting thread/section.

once a debate point section has dozens of 'debate retorts' in then perhaps posters can start to use other posts to add/modify their own, eventually we many find a very strong debate point that has 'evolved' quite naturally from the input of maybe dozens of people, they will of course be continually modified to chase the othersides debate points, sounds a bit like the red queen here but hopefully alice will get ahead!!

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:10:00 UTC | #77515

Buddha's Avatar Comment 6 by Buddha

"It's not possible to be a true scientist and believe in the supernatural"

This was Craig Venter's response to being asked if he was religious on BBC Newsnight the other day in a piece about his work on synthetic lifeforms.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:31:00 UTC | #77531

Horwood Beer-Master's Avatar Comment 7 by Horwood Beer-Master

The question (in one form or other) of the lack of transitional forms keeps coming up from time to time in discussions of evolution, I can think of no better response to this than the following extract from 'Climbing Mount Improbable' which I've used before in this thread,

"There is a supremely banal reason why transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level. I can explain it best with an analogy. Children turn gradually and continuously into adults but, for legal purposes, the age of majority is taken to be a particular birthday, often the eighteenth. It would therefore be possible to say, 'there are 55 million people in Britain but not one of them is intermediate between non-voter and voter.' Just as, for legal purposes, a juvenile changes into a voter as midnight strikes on the eighteenth birthday, so zoologists always insist on classifying a specimen as in one species or another. If a specimen is intermediate in actual form (as many are) zoologists' legalistic conventions still force them to jump one way or the other when naming it. Therefore the creationists' claim that there are no intermediates has to be true by definition at the species level, but it has no implications about the real world - only implications about zoologists' naming conventions."

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:39:00 UTC | #77535

johntfiorito's Avatar Comment 8 by johntfiorito

In the D'Sousa debate, said debator claims that both he and scientists make faith claims...which is a true statement in some regards. The concept in the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist" by Norm Giesler and Turuk takes this position for an entire 300 page book.


The key difference is that a religious person who takes a faith position is not allowed to change the position while the scientist, if his faith in a, say "a singularity" before the big bang, turns out to be wrong via evidence, he can change his position with no burning at the stake. Key difference I think.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:42:00 UTC | #77539

phasmagigas's Avatar Comment 9 by phasmagigas


I believe that we need to debate further the knighthood issue. I would much appreciate if Richard could clarify his position, in order to settle the controversy which has ensued between those who take a dim view on the matter and the others

im not sure the RD knighhood needs to be in the debate section, i think RD suggested the debate section for the core issues, religion,evo etc, im not sure RD would even include his possible knighthood as of remote importance in comparison.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:53:00 UTC | #77546

Martini's Avatar Comment 10 by Martini

I love this idea!

It would be nice to have a place to go when debating theists (even on other message boards) and have well structured retorts already made for common theist arguments.

One I encounter a lot:

Being an atheist takes as much faith as being a theist, or the less aggressive version: Atheism is a belief too, which sometimes dwindles down to: Atheism is not lack of belief in God, it is the belief that God doesn't exist.


Why do you atheists care so much about what others believe when it can't affect you?


How can everything on Earth being so perfect for life all just be a coincidence?

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:57:00 UTC | #77548

Matt H.'s Avatar Comment 11 by Matt H.

I think weaknesses in evolution (gaps in fossil record, formation of the eye, bacteria with one protein taken out doesn't work, etc) is a major debate point and Josh if you could ask Richard if you could use his 'Evolution of the eye' video, and put it up on the website, that would be great since Youtube keeps taking it down for breach of copyright.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 13:59:00 UTC | #77549

thirdchimpanzee's Avatar Comment 12 by thirdchimpanzee

One emerging favourite of the theists is to argue that science points towards theism on the basis that a Universe that follows "laws" implies a "law giver", and our ability to comprehend those laws is further evidence of the divine purpose of the Universe. D'Souza in his debate with Hitchins tries to have it both ways, arguing at the beginning that the rational nature of Universe that we can understand with mathematics supports the idea of a rational God creating such a Universe (he totally mistranalates omniscient to do this) - and then argues later that all Laws must allow of occasional exceptions - which leaves room for miracles.

Whatever shenanigans are being deployed, we do need a solid rebuttal to the idea that a rational universe implies a creator.

I propose three distinct grounds for rebuttal:

1. The Universe is not very rational
Whenever I've seen this argument put forward (as D'Souza did) - its usually buttressed by a simplistic understanding of the science. So D'Souza talks about the inverse square law of gravity, but has no idea that Einstein spent the rest of his career trying to reconcile gravity with the other forces, and failing. I don't think anyone wrestling with 11 dimensions, two of which may be time, would call their world very rational.

2. The Universe is not really "comprehensible" to us
This is a bit harder to explain, but if understanding is connected to the ability to predict consequences, then in many areas of physics, climatalogy, astronomy etc. we are basically reliant on computers processing models to generate visualisations or other "conclusions" that we can then "understand". Our evolved brains are simply no longer capable of performing the mathematics or other modelling required to come up with detailed predictions. Obviously we created the computers and the programs to do the analysis - but in the future we will probably have AI's doing scientific discovery on their own, and "keeping us posted". Either way, the argument that the Universe was strangely made comprehensible to us falls away - our brains simply can't handle 11 dimensions!

3. A Universe that follows laws implies a law giver
Maybe its time to ditch the word "Law" from the the scientific lexicon. There's no "Law of Gravity" - and its an 18th Century concept that looks increasingly suspect. What we have are "models" of various aspects of the Universe, and insofar as the models continue to generate useful predictions, we continue to support them. When they start failing, we refine the model to the point where it might have to be replaced. Our actual legal system (at least the Common Law variety) follows this same pattern - these "Laws" reflect transient understandings of how society or the Universe works. This has nothing to do with "immutable" laws drawn from the Bible or any other religious source - and therefore carries no implication of a "law giver"

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:00:00 UTC | #77551

Paul Creber's Avatar Comment 13 by Paul Creber

Atheism is self-refuting because it asserts that everything in the universe, including the atheist's own reasoning, came about as a result of non-rational forces. If that is indeed the case, every argument employed by the atheist is, according to his own assertions, incoherent and meaningless. Only the theist is able to claim coherence and true logic in his arguments because those arguments are founded on the notion of an all-knowing being.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:08:00 UTC | #77557

Quine's Avatar Comment 14 by Quine

Atheism is self-refuting because it asserts that everything in the universe, including the atheist's own reasoning, came about as a result of non-rational forces. If that is indeed the case, every argument employed by the atheist is, according to his own assertions, incoherent and meaningless. Only the theist is able to claim coherence and true logic in his arguments because those arguments are founded on the notion of an all-knowing being.

The computer I am typing on at this moment works through non-rational forces, but the results are neither incoherent nor meaningless.

EDIT: Paul, don't be sorry; I got the message just fine. (see you on the subthread, when I get time)

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:19:00 UTC | #77561

Zakie Chan's Avatar Comment 15 by Zakie Chan


Stating that God exists because we are rational simply begs the question about God. You are also assuming that God would be rational.

But assuming that God does exist, if we can find anything that he does, that is irrational, we have to then conclude that we didnt get our rationality from God. So... in 2 Kings, God sends bears to maul 40 children for making fun of a bald guy. This is irrational. So where did my view that that is irrational come from? Because it cant be from God.

And why should we assume that reason cannot come from laws of nature? Complexity can come from non-complexity, so why not reason? All we need to be rational is an information processing brain. Thanks to evolution, we have one.

But we arent born with reason, its not something thats planted in our heads from day one. We become rational by information processing, by learning, and by experience.

Check out the books "The Problem of the Soul" by Owen Flanagan and "How The Mind Works" by Steven Pinker for way more details on all of that stuff.


Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:24:00 UTC | #77563

Sinful Messiah's Avatar Comment 16 by Sinful Messiah

D'Souza slipped Pascal's Wager into the Hitchens debate.

A basic argument, but when debating one should be able to recognize the argument because it can be worded and thrown around in so many different ways.

I think D'Souza said "it's a leap of faith for both of us..."

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:26:00 UTC | #77566

Corylus's Avatar Comment 17 by Corylus

"We live in a post-modern world now. Atheists are being dreadfully old-fashioned to make truth claims at all.

God / religon all that stuff, well, it's just another paradigm, another worldview, another route to individual and cultural truth.

No given worldview is any better or worse than any other."

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:28:00 UTC | #77567

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 19 by Ophelia Benson

One that keeps getting recycled: 'you can't prove God doesn't exist [therefore God exists].'

There is also the bottomlessly silly 'You can't prove love exists, either [therefore God exists].'

Expanded, that turns into the endlessly irritating pseudo-argument that criticism of 'faith' as a way of thinking amounts to an attack on imagination, story-telling, art, love, beauty, truth...happiness, laughter, walks on the beach, and Christ knows what. We see this a lot of course in the oh so witty riposte that Dawkins can't prove he loves his wife. Bleah. People were using that on Carl Sagan more than ten years ago, and it was just as stupid then. One, there's the endemic confusion between evidence and proof, and two, there's the absurd idea that God is the same kind of thing as a particular human emotion - that all 'unseen' things are the same kind of thing, and stand or fall together. Pu-leeze.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:38:00 UTC | #77573

Sinful Messiah's Avatar Comment 18 by Sinful Messiah

The Tamil Tigers argument should be addressed too

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:38:00 UTC | #77572

Paul Creber's Avatar Comment 20 by Paul Creber

Thank you Quine (15) and Zakie Chan (16) for your responses. I'll take them on board. But isn't this thread supposed to be merely a repository for arguments we atheists might encounter? That's all I was doing...depositing in the repository.

EDIT: Sorry, Quine, I can't resist this one: If I type qwerrtyuiddhfhgjgkghhk.. my computer still coherent?

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:41:00 UTC | #77575

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 21 by Ophelia Benson

We can't possibly know either way, therefore the only reasonable thing to be is an agnostic; atheists are just as dogmatic as theists. (Actually of course we think they're much more so, but we pretend to think it's a toss-up between them, for the sake of appearances - but we do of course spend a lot of time ragging on atheists and no time ragging on theists.)

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:43:00 UTC | #77577

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 22 by Ophelia Benson

Atheists claim to know what they can't know, whereas religion is all about uncertainty; atheists are the real dogmatists.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:45:00 UTC | #77580

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 23 by Ophelia Benson

Science can answer how questions but only religion can answer why questions.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:45:00 UTC | #77581

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 24 by Ophelia Benson

Dawkins thinks science can answer all questions, but science can't tell us why we're here or what is the meaning of our lives.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:47:00 UTC | #77582

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 25 by Ophelia Benson

Scientists talk about evidence but who decides what is evidence? Science won't accept personal experience as evidence, but it should. People who've experienced God know that God exists; people who don't accept that simply haven't had the experience, so they aren't qualified to evaluate it.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:50:00 UTC | #77585

Zakie Chan's Avatar Comment 27 by Zakie Chan

Hey Paul-

My bad my bad. I thought you were just asking. I see your point.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:51:00 UTC | #77588

Quine's Avatar Comment 26 by Quine

D'Souza slipped Pascal's Wager into the Hitchens debate.

Always remember that Pascal's Wager represents an arms race among religions for who can come up with the most terrible eternal damnation. Why should religion X get all the converts just because they thought of something so bad you shouldn't risk it? If Atheism is true, and you do not take charge of this, your only life, you have blown your chance for all eternity.

EDIT: After posting, I noticed Pascal's Wager had a subthread, so I reposted this there.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:51:00 UTC | #77587

Ophelia Benson's Avatar Comment 28 by Ophelia Benson

People aspire to freedom and light, but they also need obedience and shadows. (That's Roger Scruton, in his review of Anthony Grayling's book on the Enlightenment.)

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 14:52:00 UTC | #77590

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 29 by Russell Blackford

Good initiative.

Don't forget that some work has already been done at Ask the Atheists

It's a resource to draw on.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 15:00:00 UTC | #77594

Teratornis's Avatar Comment 30 by Teratornis

At the risk of sounding negative, I have to say that this site is not optimal for collaboratively editing responses to these debate points. At best, each of us can tack on some additional disjointed comments, but then the result is a long, disorganized message thread, without also containing a concise, distilled result which we could take turns iteratively improving.

To do collaborative editing, and capture a real measure of our collective wisdom, we need the software specifically designed for collaborative editing. I.e., we need a wiki (rather than a blog/forum type of messaging/commenting system).

We have all seen examples of wikis that run on the MediaWiki software: Wikipedia, RationalWiki, EvoWiki, CreationWiki, Conservapedia, etc. If we haven't, here are some links: - The English Wikipedia - EvoWiki - RationalWiki

What our opponents are doing with wiki technology:

MediaWiki has an interesting set of features that allow communities of users with a shared vision to collaborate effectively with each other: built-in revision control (so mistakes and vandalism are easy to revert); "talk" (a.k.a. "discussion") pages attached to every page, so users can discuss what they are doing to each page; a compact "wikitext" markup language designed for quick typing, but flexible enough to lay out professional-looking pages; templates, to automate complex formatting commands, allowing efficient division of labor between users who specialize in the technical details and those who focus on content; user pages and subpages, so each registered user can have his/her own workspace for individual expression and to organize projects; and too many more to list.

I don't mean to discourage the efforts of the RDF admins, but a project of this type - to collaboratively construct responses to debate points - cries out to be wikified. Forum/blogging software only provides the "talk page" piece of the puzzle. The other components that make up a wiki are vital for making it work.

RationalWiki, for example, may be a suitable venue if RDF does not want to install its own wiki. I recently started editing on RationalWiki, and after an amusingly bumpy entry, I seem to have convinced the folks over there to tolerate my presence. Actually they decided to give me sysop privilege, even though I didn't ask for it.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 15:05:00 UTC | #77597

Paul Creber's Avatar Comment 31 by Paul Creber

Zakie Chan (28) No problem. But I do find this argument (sometimes called TAG - the Transcendental Argument for God) a particularly tricky one. It was put to Dawkins in his debate with John Lennox, but Dawkins didn't address it. The best response I've seen is from the brilliant Richard Carrier (, but even that was not entirely satisfying.

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 15:07:00 UTC | #77598