Can theists and atheists really have any rational arguments?

Problem of evil debate - William Lane Craig vs Walter Sinnott-Armst...

While preparing for the Problem of Evil course I'm now running, I found this debate between Craig and Sinnot-Armstrong above. And it seemed like two people arguing, one in English and the other in French.

Sinnot-Armstrong like any atheist argues from the primacy of the physical world. So suffering is extensive and indiscriminate for human and non-human animals. Against any of our moral standards this is grossly wrong if should be stopped. It therefore contradicts the existence of the traditional god. His proof was everyday experience in our physical world.

Craig, as the Christian apologist, argues from the primacy of the divine world. Our physical world is a simply a proving ground for humans, a probationary period prior to eternal life. All suffering is therefore non-gratuitous as it contributes to "finding" god. His proofs rest on standard arguments for god and acceptance of Christian doctrine, supported by vague analogies and pure faith.

What struck me is that both speakers were talking about two vastly different things even though they shared the same English words. They shared the odd verbal punch but mostly plugged their separate stories, truly different worlds. Ultimately I wondered whether an atheist could have any meaningful engagement or argument with a (strong) theist.

Alex's Heresies - Embracing a Physical Reality

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Tags: argument, evil, theism


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Comment by Alex McCullie on November 18, 2009 at 3:32pm
I'm all for balanced rational (keep-it-nice) discussions, but I felt that Sinnot-Armstrong should have been more assertive in challenging Craig. For example, the debate was about Craig's very specific concept of god that many Christians and other religious people reject. Craig kept portraying the debate as the religious versus the atheists. Also I love it how we, as humans, are too "finite" to know god's true motives and objective (torturing babies is ok for others to find god some hundreds of years later) but people like Craig seem have the inside track to know the all-powerful characteristics of god. Sorry, I forgot, that's "revealed knowledge". Off the soap box! Alex
Comment by Nate on November 18, 2009 at 12:54pm
Younger intelligent irrational people usually still can be saved, but not the old stubborn ones. If you encounter an old stubborn religious guy, walk away.

This is logical. The older a believer is the greater their investment in their belief system. It's easier to admit that your worldview is based on a lie at thirty than at sixty.
Comment by Paul Lin on November 18, 2009 at 12:44pm
In any discussion that will result in a meaningful conclusion, the parties involved have to be rational. If one of them is not being rational, then the discussion may not go anywhere because irrational people often evade issues and miss points. Moreover, most irrational people have trouble grasping concepts, so they usually play with semantics and names just to get you believe something.

Younger intelligent irrational people usually still can be saved, but not the old stubborn ones. If you encounter an old stubborn religious guy, walk away. Don't waste time on them. Their brains are damaged beyond repair. Not even God can save them.
Comment by Jason Spicer on November 18, 2009 at 12:38pm
The problem of naturally-occurring suffering is sufficient to demolish the traditional view of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god. The inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible are sufficient to dispel the notion of divine inspiration for the text. The Anthropic Principle is clearly tautological and unconvincing as a support for deism. That doesn't leave much for theists to stand on.

But since it typically takes several years, if not decades, for a believer to be successfully deprogrammed, debate and engagement between theists and atheists is not merely possible, but essential. Looking back on my own intellectual development, if I hadn't been repeatedly exposed to atheist arguments along these lines, they might never have sunk in, even though I was always dubious of religious claims. After all, if I had been unaware of the alternative, I might never have figured it out on my own. Obviously, some people need more convincing, and others less. I'm not so sure live debates are all that productive, since they tend to generate more heat than light, but certainly the above points need to be made continuously available to theists if they are to have any hope of becoming undeluded. It's important to keep making the case.
Comment by Marshall on November 18, 2009 at 11:54am
Of course that view doesn't explain the random, unneccesary evil that serves to purpose (babies with deformities, natural disasters, etc.
Comment by Marshall on November 18, 2009 at 11:52am
Craig position is identical to my own when I was still delusional.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on November 18, 2009 at 10:31am
Can theists and atheists really have any rational arguments?

I don't see how a rational agrument could be accomplished when one side is committed to an irrational world view.
Comment by Rayray on November 18, 2009 at 8:26am
I find mostly that theists would rather stop talking about it or get angry after receiving questions they cannot answer. And I have many.
Comment by Nate on November 18, 2009 at 7:37am
Strong theists become masters of cognitive dissonance management. The easiest and most direct way to eliminate their dissonance would be to drop their irrational belief system. If they were emotionally capable of that, they would have done so long ago. Instead, they cope by minimizing the importance of their dissonant beliefs and exaggerating the perceived strengths in their belief system(adding more consonant beliefs).

Looking back, I see this behavior in my former religious self. I now see it in friends and family that are seemingly unphased by the presentation of facts and logic that contradict their beliefs.
Comment by Edward Teach on November 18, 2009 at 6:02am
Yea, reason and faith are like oil and water... each excludes the other.

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