Monday, October 13, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate Analysis - Barker Opening Statements

Dan Barker next gave his opening statements, starting out by saying that he used to preach the same sermon that Friel just gave with all sincerity. "I changed my mind," said Barker. He briefly explained his life growing up as a Christian songwriter and soul-winner, but as an adult he began to question his beliefs, and the more he investigated, the more he realized that he couldn't believe it anymore, and thus he embraced atheism. "God does not exist."

Barker summarized a psychological principle called the Hyper-Active Agency Detector. The human mind tends to identify the unknown as an agent, a living conscious thing. He gave the example of confusing a stick in the woods for a snake. Doing so provides an evolutionary advantage. Thinking that a stick might be a snake won't harm you when you investigate further, but thinking a snake might be just a stick might get you bitten or killed. It's a defense mechanism that people have used in the past when confronted with the unknown. The source of lightning and thunder was called Zeus by ancient Greeks and Thor by Norsemen. Barker asked how many in the audience believe in Thor. When no hands were raised, he labeled the audience filled with skeptics and atheists. Barker then asked how many believed in Yahweh, and many hands were raised. "The only difference between you and me," he said, "is that I believe in one fewer gods than you do."

We are all atheists to some degree, declared Barker. However, the burden of proof is on he who makes the claim that God exists, not on he who disbelieves.

That said, Barker gave several long-held reasons to disbelieve the existence of God:
1. There is no evidence for the existence of God. Barker didn't elaborate further on this bold claim.
2. There is no coherent definition of God. Every believer has a different definition of God, which flies in the face of God's existence. The Omni-God, he said (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, Omni benevolent) is a logical contradiction and therefore can't possibly exist as is.
3. The problem of Evil argues against a loving God, although there may be a god or gods of a non-loving nature.
4. God believers disagree with each other on the moral principles of God. Whether the issue of the day is abortion, capital punishment, or even paying taxes, all sides of the issue are supported by God believers.
5. There is no need for God. Barker declared that people can live moral happy lives without God, and the very fact that debates like this one proves that the existence of God can't be as obvious as believers assert it is.

"I am justified in saying that God does not exist."

I was uncomfortable hearing Barker repeatedly state that God does not exist in that I feel the argument is too strong. It leaves Dan open to the criticism that since Dan does not have all knowledge he can't possibly state that something does not exist. This is particularly dangerous in an oral debate, since "God" and "god" sound exactly like. If a believer's god is a mountain-dwelling deity who launches lightning bolts at unworthy humans, then modern science can allow us to confidently claim that such a being definitely does not exist. However, if a believer defines his god as a vague nebulous Primary Mover located outside of space and time, then such a god is unfalsifiable and unprovable. The trick in situations like this is to nail down a precise definition of God, something that Friel seemed to spend little time doing. Friel said, "God has to have all the credit for everything," and assumed that everyone in the room knew exactly who he meant.

I would rather Barker have said, "I don't believe that God exists," or "I believe that God exists, though I can't prove it."



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Next: Barker's Rebuttal

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