Debates

Morality needs God

Ron Smith vs Matthew Flannagan | “Morality Does Not Need God” | Waikato University

Hello readers, today we have uploaded the the debate with Dr Ron Smith and Dr Matthew Flannagan to YouTube, though some of you may have noticed it floating around Facebook. It was a well-attended debate, in total 200 people came along and participated.

This sort of event is what we like to see at Thinking Matters, people from both sides of the “God” debate coming together and engaging in a civil and intelligent conversation. You will be able to tell that Matthew and Ron disagreed with each other, yet they disagreed with “reverence and respect”, showing that disagreements over religion do not necessarily divide. In addition, the questions that were asked of the interlocutors, were penetrating but at the same time, cordial. No one got offended and everyone was calm.

In his opening remarks Dr Frank Scrimgeour, the moderator commented:

“It is an important occasion, and an important topic that befits a university, particularly a contemporary university that seeks to place more moral claims on its students, more than was the case when I was an undergraduate student … I trust that it will be a fun evening and I look forward to crowd response, but I request that it will be done with dignity and good nature. I am sure that enhances the quality of the conversation … I am not interested in moderating a debate where people cannot hear the participants. So I guess the more you disagree with someone, I challenge you to listen harder and be ready to ask the insightful question at the appropriate time … Think hard and enjoy yourselves.”

Ron echoed this sentiment saying:

“I was an easy target for the invitation to speak in this because I have become increasingly concerned, to be frank, about the extent to which the university has attached itself, and areas within it, to particular ideological views, and really shutdown discussion in a variety of areas … where discussion is inhibited. Now if there is anywhere in the community where discussion ought to proceed without persons needing to be protected against the possibility that arguments don’t sit well, it’s a university. The university has failed to live up to its obligation, so this is the test of the principle.”

Both of these men understand how important debates on the existence and nature of God are, and have identified that a university ought be a perfect place for such a discussion to go ahead. One of the key reasons why the debate was a true victory, was because it showed that people can disagree about the most important things in life and still part on good terms. Matthew defended the Christian conception of God and Morality in the true spirit of 1 Peter 3:15-16, where St Peter commands:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

May this also be something we never forget.

Closing Thoughts on the Resurrection Debate

Over the last few months we’ve been hosting a formal written debate between myself and Malcolm Trevena on the historicity of the resurrection (see here, here, and here). Unfortunately I have decided to formally close the debate.

Before setting out on the exchange, Malcolm and I both agreed to several rules or guidelines for the debate. One of these was that we would reply to our opponent’s posts within five days. At the time, this sounded like it would afford plenty of opportunity to respond adequately to each other and keep the debate moving swiftly. While writing my opening statement however, I quickly realized that this would be a struggle to maintain. I therefore suggested to Malcolm that if he wanted to take a week or two to write a good response, then this would be fine with me and we could count the original guideline as flexible. Afterall, we are both active people with full, active lives. However, it has now been 5 weeks since I have heard anything from him. Not just a response to my first response, but any communication whatsoever. And so I believe it best that we close the debate and open it up to the readers for their comments.

I thought I would offer four reflections on the debate ending.

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How William Lane Craig thrashed Sam Harris like a naughty puppy

Since I was fortunate enough to have some time free yesterday, I was able to watch, live, the Craig-Harris debate on whether God is the foundation of moral goodness. I live blogged this on Twitter, along with with several other apologists—including @MaxeoA and @bossmanham—and a couple of skeptics—including our own village atheist @OpenParachute. (Click here for the full archive; the hashtag is #GodDebateII.)

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Krauss on Craig: “disingenuous distortions, simplifications, and outright lies”

A couple of days ago, Lawrence Krauss released a statement on his recent debate with William Lane Craig over whether there is evidence for God. (If you haven’t watched it, ctrl-click here to view it on YouTube.)

His statement was posted on Pharyngula, the blog of infamous self-styled “godless liberal” PZ Myers, and was also circulated on Richard Dawkins’ forum (the self-styled “clear-thinking oasis”).

Let me make a couple o’ comments on it:

Firstly

It’s clear that the thing I found most embarrassing about Krauss’ part of the debate—his complete lack of understanding of the contingency argument—has in no sense changed.

This argument is about why is there something instead of nothing; it isn’t an argument about causes, as he characterizes it (apparently confusing it with the Kalam Cosmological Argument), but an argument about explanations or reasons. It invokes the Principle of Sufficient Reason: that everything that exists must have a sufficient reason for its existence. Obviously, most of the things we know exist could just as easily not exist; in which case, why do they exist? But we can also see that some things, like the laws of logic, must exist—they exist necessarily. God in the latter category; the universe is in the former. There is nothing about its nature that says it must exist, or that it must exist exactly as it does. This is really not disputed, to my knowledge, among either scientists or philosophers. In fact, the science seems to indicate that the universe could have existed in so many other different ways that we literally cannot conceive of the number. But in that case, we are back to asking why does it exist, and why does it exist as it does? Krauss has no answer.

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