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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Correcting falsehoods about the Zuckerman debate

Richard Wilson recently posted a report of my debate with Phil Zuckerman on the Friendly Atheist blog.  Wilson's report was honest and fair, if sketchy, though many comments less honest or fair followed. Finally, someone signing himself or herself JMK issued the following eyewitness report of the debate.  Perhaps JMK is making a dry, tongue-in-cheek critique of eyewitness reports in general, with a view to discrediting the gospels?  It certainly demonstrates the power of bias over perception.  JMK does get some facts right.  Let me correct the rest.  I suspect I may have to do this more than once, so let me add a Roman numeral to the title of this post. 

Having attended the debate I can vouch for the one-sided nature.

The quotes are the best I could do.

The gist of Zuckerman's argument was twofold:

1. Secular Humanists agree with many Christian values, with a side emphasis on Democracy being valued by both. Nonreligious (post-Christian) democratic populations show the most success at displaying Christian values. (Launched by his Treaty of Tripoli arc establishing the U.S. as not Christian, and followed by much evidence from polls re: U.S. subgroups and internationally.)

2. Secular Humanism can draw upon the best the world, which also shares these (predating Christianity) "Christian" values, and SH allows all to come to the table with their beliefs. On the other hand, Christianity is non-inclusive, especially if privileged. Followed by subtle implications of the Bible, and strong evidence of evangelicals, falling short of "Christian Values".

Marshall never countered these.

Marshall came prepared with a pro-Christian, anti-Atheist sermon full of anecdotes (both personal & historical) and quotes. Most of my notes for him are along the lines "More quotes, more anecdotes".

No actual evidence. No firm rebuttals.


Zuckerman defanged him by agreeing Christianity has had successes, but then showing the greater success of post-Christian democracies (and peoples).

Marshall kept trying to get back on the 'communist' arc and the 'atheists have no values' arc, but since Zuckerman had already filled those gaps by embracing democracy and "Christian" (but shared universally) values, Marshall found no footing.

Essentially, Zuckerman didn't counter him (except to correct errors or obfuscations) so much as top him.

Marshall's attempts to extricate 'basis of civil society' away from 'democratic government' was sloppy, as he had no replacement 'basis'. (Zuckerman had already conceded that a society of one religion, any religion, would be 'civil', but in our pluralistic world, that wasn't an option. (Also alluded to Sharia Law.))

Marshall didn't seem to understand Secular Humanism is not atheism, nor anti-Christian, or that is does have a set of values.

My response: At least you're not entirely guessing at my arguments, like some above.  But I gave a number of empirical arguments for my case, backed them up by citing many leading historians, and Zuckerman did nothing to overthrow those arguments.  Were you asleep during my opening statement? 

As for your rebuttal, consider the following:

(1) There were no "secular humanists" in the Continental Congress. That is anachronistic.  But every single man there grew up in a culture deeply influenced by Christianity. And while some figures who influenced the outcome might have been closer to deism than Christianity (Hume, Jefferson), others were serious believers (Locke, Witherspoon).

(2) Government, in my view, should be neutral between religions, and between religious and non-religious organizations.  That is not at all the same as saying either that the values that made America were not largely and deeply Christian, including government itself -- read the Tierney book I cited. 

(3) Christianity has, in fact, "drawn upon the world," and in a deeper sense than Secular Humanism can.  Humanists of the Kurtz-Zuckerman variety are atheists.  That isolates them from many true insights in world civilizations, such as those I described the next morning at Adventure.  Early Christians recognized this from the beginning, as Paul Tillich, for instance, points out.  (As does Jaroslav Pelikan's excellent Jesus Through the Centuries.) 

Plato and Socrates were not left behind on the cutting board: they became part of Western ("Christian") civilization.  Homer is reborn in Milton; Virgil in Dante.  The Stoics accompanied Mateo Ricci to China. 

(4) No evidence?  Baloney.  I gave copious evidence.  And Zuckerman conceded a great deal of it. Your bias is showing like pink underwear through thin white cotton, on that bit of nonsense.

This week I'll post my opening statement.  It is full of copious evidence for the positive influence of the Gospel, which Zuckerman did nothing to refute.    

(5) I never, ever said "atheists have no values."  Nor have I ever, once, written such a thing.  Though I wonder if you may need more of them, in misrepresenting me like that.   

(6) Secular Humanism is a "religion" in the sense I use the word -- I cited Peter Berger on the two different kinds of definition for "religion."  Have you read Berger?  I suspect Phil has, which is why he did not challenge me on the point.

(7) Nor (again you are misrepresenting the facts) did I "concede the power" of Zuckerman's Gish Gallop at the end.  I conceded that I could not possibly answer all those points, and then somehow conclude my own argument, in five minutes.  I said I'd answer them elsewhere (on my blog, when the transcript is available -- but I've already answered his strongest point in my last post). 

(8) The concluding story was real evidence, which Zuckerman's main argument was not.  He concedes himself that "correlation does not prove causation."  Ruby Bridges' story (multiplied many thousands of times over) shows causation, not just correlation.  Zuckerman is looking at society from a satellite, but real human impact occurs at the ground level.  And I'd given plenty of general evidence to demonstrate that causation already.  Including by citing Zuckerman himself, and then demonstrating that the Scandinavian atheists who tell him how the Gospel has influenced Scandinavia for the better, are right. 

As Zuckerman himself concedes, when life gets easy, people tend to forget God.  That's what the Bible says, too, including Jesus, in the Parable of the Seed.  Why should I argue with Jesus? 

(9) I did not "dredge up dirt."  Not once was I uncivil or did I offer irrelevant arguments.  I like Phil, never impugned his motives, and was courteous throughout.  I don't fault Phil for bringing up the 100 Years War: he has no reason to fault me for bringing up the mass horrors of 20th Century Marxism-Leninism.  This is a serious discussion. 

(10) The tribe I mentioned was the Yanomami.  Zuckerman was wrong: they are not exceptions, as even Margaret Mead concedes, but much more the rule.  See War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. (I have lived among other tribes with such backgrounds, both in North America and Asia.)  Phil was also wrong to suppose that means I don't appreciate the good in such tribes -- a subject I have often stressed, and I followed immediately by pointing out the oppressive character of many early civilizations. 

(11) You're also wrong in assuming that I'm a Democrat.  I simply refused to discuss politics, as Phil seemed to want to do -- not that there was time for that, anyway. 

I will post this, and subsequent corrections, on my blog, along with detailed empirical refutations of those important points that I didn't get to in our short debate, and Phil got wrong.

26 comments:

Janet said...

So why on earth have you refused to air the debate itself, after agreeing to do so?There is no logical explanation other than you didn't like the outcome.

David B Marshall said...

Janet: Adventure Christian Church has refused to post the debate. I am not a member of that church. I will be thrilled when our arguments are placed in the public arena, and the real debate can begin.

J. M. Keese said...

Hello, David, this is my response to yours, copy-pasted from the Friendly Atheist website:

Hello, Mr. Marshall, thank you for visiting us here. :)
Note though, that when discussing developing a civil society, it'd be best not to lace your responses with insults.
You've invested much more into the debate, and perhaps were trying to be funny, but...just sayin'
(Note: I have your original reply on my e-mail, sent to me by Disqus...)

Replies:

1. Nobody made this argument. The fact they were mostly Christians who developed a non-Christian system strengthened the appeal of Zuckerman's non-Christian system to his Christian audience. (Success is arguable.)
The fact most of the 10 commandments would be illegal to enforce under the government created shows its disjunction from Judeo-Christian roots. (Yes, murder, theft, etc, are punishable, but that's universal among civil societies.)

2. Yes, they were Christians, but their values were universal. You failed to prove their Christianity was more than coincidence. (i.e. a quote from a founder showing Christianity causing them (or a writer) to frame the Constitution as they did to offset the Treaty of Tripoli showing the exact opposite. It's a pretty blatant comment, signed off unanimously by the Senate consisting of many of those Founding Fathers.)

3. *citation needed*
You really believe that Christianity's body of beliefs has interwoven non-Christian beliefs and values into itself, to strengthen itself? (philosophically, not numerically/financially)
I mean, there's "Pagan Christianity?" by Viola & Barna showing lots of said influences, but they're arguing against such corruption.
4. Apologies, but there's a mismatch here.
Your evidence was historical re: Christian success. And I noted how Zuckerman conceded you that, BTW.
I meant evidence Christianity was better than Secular Humanism, the main question of the debate. Or even evidence Christianity has a high % of success. (This 'proven track record' you wanted to establish.)

Pointing out the many successes (and ignoring the many failures) seems insincere at best. Yes, an argument, but not evidence. Most every social system has had successes, and could use the exact same tactic with exactly as little meaning.

You'd have to quantify the success to failure ratio across the board, perhaps even comparing it to other systems' successes. Of course, the many correlations among systems would make that arduous...

ADDING: Zuckerman did make such comparisons, effectively showing how many non-Christian groups outdo Christians at Christian values.

5. Yes, "Squishy" was the word, so apologies, but correct me if that's not trying to undermine Secular Humanist values.
Nice 'civility' tagged on the end there. And you seemed so nice...

J. M. Keese said...

Pt II

6. Did anybody argue this? Arguing this definition wouldn't advance the debate, it'd stall it. Point being?
7. Fair enough, but it came across weak.

8. We disagree. To me, the story showed the power of a concept to help a little girl adjust to a severe situation. All major religions offer that! It's not evidence how Christianity can help make a more civil society than Secular Humanism.

Ask yourself, how much was the Christianity of the protestors helping? Would it even be possible for a Secular Humanist to be such a protestor?

Yes, this could spin off into 'No True Scotsman' territory, but when Christianity, as applied in real life, is a trait in the villains' lives as well as the heroes', then that is not evidence either way. (i.e. Wilberforce vs. slave-owning Christians)
Which is to say, I do not agree that your many other anecdotes showed causation. Correlation at best.
Multiplying doesn't show causation. No matter how many people have seen aliens (tens of thousands at this point) doesn't, in fact, prove aliens exist. Especially when, as noted above, other religions have those same 'feel good' stories, and tons of 'feel bad' stories too while we're at it.

9. I would call it dredging up dirt. Yes, Zuckerman did it too. Both of you were very civil to one another, a point I made to Bryan afterward, and appreciated.
While not irrelevant, I did not think it advanced your causes, especially since Communism is not a form of Secular Humanism.

10. You should have stressed that that was the norm, not just one example. Even then, the presence of civil societies that have minimal or zero Christian influence (not just contact) shows Christianity unnecessary re: the debate.

11. I thought one of you two said that and I phrased it so.
It wasn't an assumption.

Anyway, thank you again for visiting here, and hopefully this will all lead somewhere. :)
Cheers, JMK

ADDING:
1. 'himself' :)
2. 'discrediting the gospels': The accuracy of the Gospels is irrelevant to this debate. It was about efficacy.
Also, I do not consider them eyewitness accounts. (i.e. Mary told nobody? Only Mary would know that.)
3. We both are biased. :)
(Please post video.)
That said, sometimes we agree on an event, just disagree on its worth. For example, I don't see your anecdotal examples as evidence of pattern. One must look at the whole. You didn't.
You glossed over Christianity's failures (most of which are rooted in Christian belief/the Bible), and overemphasized its successes (rooted in same).
Some, such as Christianity aiding feminism, I flat out disagree with you on. I mean really? You think Christianity has a good track record there? At best for you, it's Christian vs. Christian, with the Bible supporting which better? Jesus moves it one step forward. The rest of Christian history and lore holds it back.

Cheers, :)
JMK

J. M. Keese said...

Janet, any pressure on Adventure would be welcome.
The media is already getting wind of this, and it'd be in Adventure's best interests not to look like they're doing 'damage control'.
And they are.
They've posted rebuttals on Vimeo, but have deleted Zuckerman's comments from them.
Unsure, but I've heard they've locked out all comments now.
Since discourse is a major element of a civil society, one has to wonder.
Cheers, JMK


Janet said...

I remembered as soon as my post hit the ether that it was the church playing hide and seek, not you. Sorry about that.
I did post a comment on their FB page, politely asking them to release the debate.

David B Marshall said...

James (?): Sorry if I was a little harsh, but please do be careful not to misrepresent me, especially since so far the record of this debate is unavailable so far. I am very careful not to unfairly generalize about atheists, so I find it irritating when I am accused of that.

By "squishy" I was referring to Secular Humanist ideology. I mean that because it is so minimalistic -- four doctrines, no God, no afterlife, care for yourself, care for others -- the fleshing out of that minimal ideology can be extremely varied. And yes, as a scholar of communism, I think it usually, but not always, qualifies as a form of Secular Humanism.

I'll get to your other points later; I really should get some work done. But on Christianity and women -- which is the work, BTW -- see my 8-part series here, "How Jesus Liberates Women," for copious documented evidence.

Gary Alexander said...

Fleshing out of a minimal ideology can be varried, but so can the interpretation of scripture. The advantage of secular humanism is that we don't have to make excuses to not follow ethical mis-steps of scripture.
"Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Crude said...

The advantage of secular humanism is that we don't have to make excuses to not follow ethical mis-steps of scripture.

And among the myriad of disadvantages is you can follow whatever you pretty much want to, including a host of 'ethical missteps'. You do, however, have to make excuses to explain away all the past and present ethical missteps of secular humanism.

I wouldn't try to advance the secular humanist case on the grounds of clarity of message, a lack of ethical mis-steps, or the lack of a need to make excuses. Secular Humanism has all three in abundance.

domics said...

I would suggest Martti Muukkonen's articles on welfare research: "Religious Roots of European Welfare Models" and "The Power of Belief in European Welfare-thinking".
http://marttimuukkonen.pp.fi/enframewin.htm

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Domics, I'll take a look.

Gary Alexander said...

Crude,
Secular humanism doesn't have doctrine that it has to try to ignore. The simple ethical message leading to miss-steps is possible, I don't disagree... but when the doctrine you're promoting has very obvious unethical messages, the advantage goes to the vague ethical concept.
Vague ethical message > complex ethical and unethical message

David B Marshall said...

Gary: Where the advantage goes is not mainly a theoretical, it is best treated as an empirical question -- the heart of our debate.

Crude said...

Secular humanism doesn't have doctrine that it has to try to ignore.

Because it doesn't have much of a doctrine at all, and - this is key - as a result, a wide, wide variety of wretched acts are quite compatible with it.

but when the doctrine you're promoting has very obvious unethical messages, the advantage goes to the vague ethical concept.

There is nothing obviously "unethical" about a stated prohibition against divorce - and the easiest examples you'd be able to reach for ('What about an arranged marriage? Those are unfair!') would reveal that the situation is not as clear cut as you'd like ('An unwilling marriage is not a marriage.') To say nothing of the fact that what is or isn't ethical is exactly what an ethical system is supposed to show us - unless you're relying entirely on intuition, in which case your position is ironically going to sit awkwardly with secular humanism's unbelievably few typical statements.

Finally, the opposite of 'vague' is not 'complex'.

I don't think you've thought this matter through as much as you should.

J. M. Keese said...

Crude, thanks for the framework.

And among the myriad of disadvantages is you, CRUDE, can follow whatever you pretty much want to, including a host of 'ethical missteps'. You do, however, have to make excuses to explain away all the past and present ethical missteps of CHRISTIANITY/CHRISTIANS.

I wouldn't try to advance the CHRISTIAN case on the grounds of clarity of message, a lack of ethical mis-steps, or the lack of a need to make excuses. CHRISTIANITY has all three in abundance.
/framework

See how easy that is, Crude?
And yet, still so true.

There are 41,000 Christianities as of last worldwide survey. How many do you disagree with? How many disagree with one another? How many use different Bibles?
How many thousands of times has the Bible been used to support an "unethical misstep", like war, racism, child murder, witch killings, or genocide? What basis do you have to judge people who actually believe the Bible allows them to take these unethical actions?
More Bible?

Which unethical directions in the Bible have you chosen to ignore? Whole OT? Leave your family yet?

Which "wretched acts" are "compatible with Secular Humanism"?
Read
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism
before answering.
How many wretched acts are allowed, commanded, or executed by Yahweh?

Lastly, why does Jesus hate fig trees? ;)

Actually, let me add, we live in a pluralistic society full of many religions. Humanistic values can be accepted without having to give up superstitions.

Cheers, JMK


Crude said...

And among the myriad of disadvantages is you, CRUDE, can follow whatever you pretty much want to, including a host of 'ethical missteps'.

Not really, man. If I believe there is a God and I believe in Christianity, I'm pretty constrained from the get-go. There is a morality, independent from my views - in fact, independent from the views of humans, period - and the best I can do is try to suss it out. And a good share of what you'll call 'ethical missteps', I'll call 'proper morality' and argue for it.

For the secular humanist? It's pretty much a 'do what you like, try to make it sound nice' affair.

I wouldn't try to advance the CHRISTIAN case on the grounds of clarity of message, a lack of ethical mis-steps, or the lack of a need to make excuses. CHRISTIANITY has all three in abundance.

Christianity does have clarity of message, and a lack of ethical missteps. You're probably confusing 'the actions of particular self-proclaimed Christians' with 'Christianity'.

See how easy that is, Crude?

You're doing it wrong, Keese. ;)

There are 41,000 Christianities as of last worldwide survey. How many do you disagree with? How many disagree with one another? How many use different Bibles?

Why are you asking -me-, Keese? Why not provide me with the data. Do Southern Baptists differ that much from Catholics on, say... the morality of same-sex marriage and abortion? How about the Orthodox Christians and the Methodists?

Quoting numbers at me doesn't advance your case an iota - it merely demonstrates that work you have cut out for you. I have a funny feeling you haven't begun to embark on it.

How many thousands of times has the Bible been used to support an "unethical misstep", like war, racism, child murder, witch killings, or genocide? What basis do you have to judge people who actually believe the Bible allows them to take these unethical actions?

Man, so much wrong in your statement. Someone misused the Bible to justify something immoral? Why should that concern me, or cast doubt on the bible? Science has been rallied to justify some rotten things too. I guess that means science is untrustworthy, eh?

And what basis do I have? Everything from the Bible itself, to philosophical and theological analysis and reason. What do you have? 'Feeling really strongly at the given moment'? 'Momentary cultural agreement'?

Which "wretched acts" are "compatible with Secular Humanism"?

Pretty much the entirety of communism, so long as they could have paid lip service to the broad, vague ideals of secular humanism - which is easy to do. I've read not only the link, but many of the links in the wiki article - behold, secular humanism is utter mush, shapeable at will, and ultimately reduces to various flavors of utilitarianism and 'might makes right'.

How many wretched acts are allowed, commanded, or executed by Yahweh?

Wretched by your standards? No doubt plenty. But who cares about your standards again? I need arguments, meat, reason - not assumptions.

Actually, let me add, we live in a pluralistic society full of many religions. Humanistic values can be accepted without having to give up superstitions.

It better be, because the belief that secular humanism produces much anything of intellectual value or moral guidance is as superstitious as anything can be. Of course, humanism is utterly incompatible with various potential conclusions of reason - such as the existence of God, commandments by God, etc.

But hey, not religion is perfect, eh? ;)

David B Marshall said...

For the record, I completely agree with Jesus about figs.

J. M. Keese said...

Crude, your name suits you.
-Your "No True Scotsman" fallacy glares.
-The fact that people use the Bible to spur atrocities should concern everyone. I find your statement repugnant in its callousness. At least Comfort wrote a book addressing Hitler taking over the Christian's there.
-Yes, all religions have flaws. :)
That's why focusing on the present and the positive works best. I've found the Bible can support unethical actions. I cannot endorse it, nor be held to its poor standards.

The video has finally been posted:
http://vimeo.com/adventurechurch/videos

Brian said...

Perhaps now the controversy can be set aside in the name of civility? Found this at:

http://adventurechurch.org/adults/university-of-life/the-great-debate/

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month our church hosted a debate featuring Dr. David Marshall speaking on Christianity and Dr. Phil Zuckerman, sharing his views on secular humanism.

The night was designed to provide a platform for each to debate their views on civil society. We hoped to encourage a sharing of thoughts and ideas between Christians, atheists and the surrounding community.

After the debate, I honestly thought the video posting was my choice to make, and I was floored to learn that our decision not to post it was considered by some as evidence of close-mindedness. I apologize for not posting this debate earlier, and now that we have clearly heard from both presenters, we are posting the debate.

I hope that the conversation about civility can continue and might return to the civil tone in which it began.

Shalom,

Pastor Rick Stedman

Crude said...

-Your "No True Scotsman" fallacy glares.

I'm afraid you're having an awful case of 'projection' here.

The fact that people use the Bible to spur atrocities should concern everyone.

I'm concerned about the atrocities (what are they?) I simply don't blame the bible for them. Do you blame 'science' for scientific racism?

Yes, all religions have flaws.

It's nice to know you admit your religion is flawed. I'm afraid yours, however, is more than flawed - it's mostly empty, and what it's not empty of is mostly wrong.

Mine's in better shape. ;)

That's why focusing on the present and the positive works best. I've found the Bible can support unethical actions.

Not really, and you certainly haven't demonstrated as much. At best you've said that you find some teachings of the bible unethical (so?), and I've pointed out that some people can interpret the bible inanely - and potentially, engage in what *I* would consider unethical actions as a result. But at that point a major question is, is their interpretation right?

If the possibility of an unethical extrapolation from a text or even idea is enough to put you off of it, I have bad news for you Keese: you've got nothing left.

Luckily, nihilism is quite compatible with atheism.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I'll be posting my opening statement here this morning. Someone else is apparently working on Phil's arguments, so we should have a transcript of the debate out shortly, as well.

Gary Alexander said...

I'm glad they finally posted the debate. Looking forward to watching it today.
Crude, really severe No True Scotsman and Strawman fallacies all over the place. I'm done responding as your posts are repeating those fallacies.
David: Figs are nasty. I agree. But Fig Newtons are delicious! I have this same issue with lai chi fruit. The fruit itself is nasty, but the things made from it are great!

Crude said...

Crude, really severe No True Scotsman and Strawman fallacies all over the place. I'm done responding as your posts are repeating those fallacies.

I take your retreat for exactly what it is, Gary. I find it telling that two people have said 'No True Scotsman!', but no one will pick out precisely where it happened. Likely because you know, if you try to argue for it, I will intellectually take you apart - piece by piece. No strawman fallacies either - 'secular humanism' is notoriously mush, and the very links provided by others in this thread have shown as much. I would delight - absolutely delight - in discussing those in detail.

Thanks for the encouraging responses all the same, even if you didn't quite give the encouragement you hoped to.

David B Marshall said...

Having watched some of the debate myself, I think I'll hang up my stage debating hat. I just don't have the manners for the job. I have the facts, but not the style. To awkward, too fumbling . . . Oh, well, not too many of those gigs around, anyway.

David B Marshall said...

Oh, well, at least I'm not responsible for the Obamacare website.

David B Marshall said...

Here's my response to PZ Myers and his nest of game-legged hyenas:

"Yes, I was fumbling and inarticulate during stretches of this debate. When it comes to style, Phil clearly had the better of the evening. Apparently stage debates are not my forte. PZ should have accepted my challenge to debate when he had the chance, and picked up a win, at least in the style department.

"But I also offered copious and strong evidence, citing eminent mostly non-Christian scholars, to support my position, that Christianity provides a better foundation for civil society than Secular Humanism. Good guy that he is, Phil did not debunk my arguments, and does not even claim to have done so. I'll be posting a transcript of the debate on my website, analyzing some key claims in more detail, and responding to serious challenges -- not that I expect many from these quarters.

"Ipetrich: Let's start with you, since you're the only one here who actually tries, flailingly, to argue. But you misunderstand my premises. I did not then, and never have, claimed that there was no charity or science or kindness to women outside of Christian tradition -- heck, I cited your man Richard Carrier on the partially theistic roots of ancient Greek science. (Which he admits died out a century and a half BEFORE Christians took over the empire.) And while Phil credits "love your neighbor as yourself" to secular human society in general, in China, which he mentioned, yeah there was a lot of talk about love, but the most famous proponent of universal love was Mozi, who said, in essence, "God (Tian) loves humanity, so we should love one another." Not a perfect illustration of the power of Secular Humanism.

"But it feels strange to talk about love and kindness in these premises, like swearing loudly in a public library.

"Go ahead, PZ, unleash the wrath, you're such a wonderful illustration of the civility that Secular Humanism can bring the world, I'm sure you'll prove Phil's point by the sheer force of your gentle, guileless good charms."