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Reflections On My Debate With Dan Barker, And The Myriad Comments Regarding It

I must say that it's been a fascinating week reading the various comments from both sides (atheist and Christian) on my debate with Dan Barker.  For those who have not heard it, the debate can be downloaded from this site (3rd one down under "free downloads").  Unsurprisingly, most atheists think Barker prevailed and most Christians think I prevailed.  I obviously think I faithfully defended the faith.  In this entry I'll make some comments on [1] how I think the debate went and [2] the various reviews given by atheists and [3] the main points they think Barker won.  We'll go in that order.

[1]  Basically, I think it's simple.  As far as the debate goes, and objective scoring goes, I feel Barker did not win.  Here's my basic run down of how the debate went.

I opened with a sustained argument, arguing that [1] with respect to beliefs atheism was non-rational since, according to Barker, atheism is not a belief.  And, [2] with respect to the other area where rationality is attributed (agent, or cognizer, rationality), Barker was agent irrational.  I pointed out three internal inconsistencies in Barker's worldview and gave a brief description of how my worldview allows for basic paradigms of rationality; whereas Barker's undermines them.  I also quoted Barker saying that if my worldview's presuppositions are accepted then Christianity is internally consistent.

Barker opened with an argument that atheism is rational since there is no evidence for God's existence, the Bible mentions irrational things, and he does not need to account for logic or morality because they are not "things."  Barker also tried to show that the concept of God was incoherent with his FANG argument.

Then we had cross examination.  During mine Barker admitted that he had a functionalist understanding of the mind, he was a conceptualist, logic did not exist, and that cosmically humans were no different than broccoli but that we subjectively assign value, which may be a wrong assignment, to humans.  Barker also admitted that given our worldview God is not evil for punishing sinners.

During Barker's he tried to show that I was inconsistent for believing that a snake talked to Adam and Eve in the garden if I didn't accept his claim that a cat spoke Spanish to him.  He also tried to throw me into disrepute by claiming that John Calvin had Servetus burned, and since Calvin was a Christian this means that Christianity was somehow to blame (yeah, I didn`t think it followed either).

During my rebuttal period I gave an argument against Barker's FANG.  I refuted his conceptualism as well as his functionalism.  I also refuted his pragmatic justification for induction, pointing out that [a] it was not an epistemic justification and [b]  even Barker's book points out that just because something works does not make it rational.  I then gave a positive argument for how Christianity accounts for the three paradigms of rationality I mentioned in my opening.  I pointed out that given Barker's worldview there was no survival value in thinking in terms of modalities, but given our worldview this fit perfectly.  I argued that given the doctrines of providence and God's covenant keeping nature, we had a basis for inductive reasoning.  I also pointed out that there are moral obligations and only persons obligate.  I then pointed out that if there are universal moral obligations this is because there is a universal person.  I also quickly pointed out that Barker's evidentialism had an infinite regress attached to it and if he tried to halt it by foundationalism he needed to deal with the likes of Plantinga (i.e., one's belief in foundationalism is not basic (in the classical sense) and is not inferred (by induction or deduction) from his basic beliefs (whatever those are!, Barker failed to specify) and is therefore self-referentially incoherent).

Barker's rebuttal failed to address any of my arguments.  He did not mention any of the refutations of his FANG, conceptualism, functionalism, morality, and pragmatism as an epistemic defense of induction. that I leveled at him.  He pointed out that, according to his subjective preference, God was a meany.  He again claimed that logic was not a "thing."  And, lastly, he said that if logic was dependant on God's nature that meant God could have made different laws of logic.  And, he again admitted that man is no different than broccoli, in the cosmic sense.

In my closing I pointed out that I was not reifying logic. I pointed out that Barker was begging the question against metaphysical realism.  I also quoted an actual example of the fallacy of reification found in Barker's book.  I pointed out that he had no basis for making his moral claims, except for a subjective preference, which does not admit one to objectively condemn Hitler or God!  I pointed out that God could not have made the laws of logic different (at least not in my worldview) but, given Barker's view (i.e., logic is a function of the physical brain), we could have evolved differently with different laws of logic.  I then called Barker to repentance, pointing out that his philosophically shoddy worldview was a result of sin.

In Barker's closing he again failed to interact with any of my rebuttals.  He just asserted, again, that logic was not a "thing."  Barker then ranted about how God was a big meany and he would tell Jesus and His Father to go to hell because they were mean for creating it (I guess Barker doesn't like it when someone, cosmically, fries broccoli, because one only should boil it!).  Barker ranted some more about Calvin and even claimed Calvin used the King James Version of the Holy Bible! (Not only is he ignorant of basic philosophical issues, he is ignorant of history as well.)

And that's my assessment of the debate.

[2]  With respects to the various atheists take on our debate I've not seen any one analyze the debate.  Most of the comments seem to refer to me as an idiot and just assert that Barker owned me.  The few comments they do make, which have substance to them, will be dealt with below.  Many claim that I sounded angry.  I've not had one Christian tell me that I did sound that way, though.  My wife, friends, and various pastors have said I sounded fine.  Also, some atheists have claimed that I was unprofessional in that I went over my time limit.  Actually, I never did once, but Barker did on every one of his segments (save his opening)!  The only time the moderator had to tell me to stop talking was during the Q and A session.  The problem here is that there was never a specified time limit and he had told me via email to keep talking until he felt I talked long enough.

[3]  Basically, the main areas of contention in my performance was my supposed reification fallacy, and my belief in a talking snake.  I'll deal with these in turn.

Reification:  I dealt with that here:  Fallacy of Reification.

Talking Snakes and Induction:  To even comment on this shows me the level of philosophical sophistication the internet atheists (and Barker) are playing at.  Basically the argument goes like this:

You're irrational for believing that a snake talked to Adam and Eve.  Induction tells us this can't happen.  If you only believe in talking snakes because a book told you so then what about if I say a cat talked to me?  If you reject that a cat talked to me, you should also reject that a snake talked to Adam and Eve.

That's the basic gist of the argument.  Some brief comments should serve to put it to bed.

  1.  I believe the biblical account.  If true, this refutes the inductive generalization. Therefore, one must undermine the biblical account before one claims it can't be correct.
  2.  To just dismiss the biblical account is called begging the question.
  3.  Induction does not tell us what is impossible.
  4.  To put Barker's say-so and the Bible's (as God's word) say-so on the same level begs the question.  It does not follow that because I don't believe Barker I must also not believe the Bible, especially given my other beliefs.
  5. How am I irrational for believing this story in the Bible?  Given my worldview I believe that this is God's word and He does not lie.  Taking something on the authority of someone who never lies is not irrational.  Thus the argument assumes that God is not the ultimate authority and the Bible is not His word, which begs the question against my worldview.  
  6.  Even if I did accept a talking cat, how's that a problem for my worldview?  I see how it fails to prove me irrational.  Even an evolutionist should have no problem admitting that through mutations we can get talking cats.
  7.  Parrots talk.
  8.  In "The Art of Reasoning," atheist David Kelly makes claims about what constitutes a good inductive argument (457-460):

[a]  To form an inductive generalization the sample should be sufficiently numerous and various.

[b]  We should look for disconfirming as well as confirming instances of a generalization.

[c]  We should consider whether a link between S and P is plausible in light of other knowledge we posses.

So the problems here with Barker's argument are numerous.

i.  This is an account of what happened pre-fall.  All his samples are post-fall samples.

ii.  Satan used the snake, Barker has only sampled "non-possessed" snakes.

iii.  As T-blogger Jason Engwer has pointed out, many  commentaries argue that what was called a serpent before the fall became the creature that we call a "snake" today.  Hence the objection assumes that what we call a "snake" today was the creature before the fall.

iv.  The Bible, as disconfirming evidence, was dismissed out of hand as wrong simply because it was disconfirming evidence!

v.  Given points 1-4, this affects [c].  Given knowledge about the world if theism is true, a talking snake is no problem.  Only if this is dismissed, a priori, do we have a problem.

vi.  Thus as I claimed in the debate Barker simply begged the question.

So in closing I fail to see how Barker proved my worldview was irrational at all.  Granted he came in assuming that is was irrational, given the falsity of theism, but that's uninteresting.  Given theism, atheism is irrational.  Basically all that happened is that Barker claimed he disagreed with my worldview.  But, we already knew that!  So why did he bother to show up?  Other than that, not answering any of my arguments and rebuttals does not constitute winning a debate in any book I know of.   Claiming that Christianity is morally bankrupt, while simultaneously admitting that your moral foundation is your subjective opinion, does not constitute winning a debate.  Assuming nominalism, does not constitute winning a debate. So, regardless of whether you agree with my position or not, I think any sensible person will agree that Christian theism came out on top Monday night.  If you disagree with me, know that on Barker's worldview, cosmically, we're just two vegetables who've happened to grow differently, and that's it.  But, hey, the debate is public and available

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