Back in the middle of September I received an email from Justin Schieber. (Yes, that Justin Schieber, aka the teen pop sensation of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast!) Justin was writing to invite me to debate Chris Hallquist who blogs as The Uncredible Hallq. In emulation of Schieber’s Reasonable Doubts debate with Max Andrews the format would be as follows:
We start with Hallquist’s twenty minute opening statement. Hallquist then sends his statement to me and I then have a week to write a twenty minute opening statement in response (which, because it is written in direct response to Hallquist, doubles as a rebuttal). I send my response to Hallquist who then has a week to write a fifteen minute rebuttal. I then do a fifteen minute rebuttal. Then ten minute rebuttals. Then five minute closing statements.
I just finished my final closing statement about an hour ago and am now looking forward to Reasonable Doubts collating the dazzling results and making the whole audio debate available in a few weeks.
“But wait,” you ask, “what was the topic of debate?”
Um, it’s listed right there in the title. “Is belief in God irrational?”
Chris was arguing that belief in God is always irrational. I was arguing that Chris has failed to establish this.
Frankly, I think the thesis Chris chose to defend is absurdly strong and that it reveals more about Chris and his own prejudices than it does the (ir)rationality of theists.
In my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think I point out that people commonly invoke two strategies to explain the fact that other people disagree with them on important matters: moral deficiency or cognitive deficiency. That is, they will attribute disagreement to some moral problem in the individual (most baldly: that person is evil) or some cognitive problem (most baldly: that person is irrational).
The journey toward intellectual maturation includes the growing recognition that folks can disagree with us without being wicked or stupid. (Hopefully that doesn’t come as a surprise!)
In his book The Making of an Atheist Christian theist James Spiegel attempts to explain all instances of atheistic belief with respect to evil or wickedness. This is an absurd mode of argumentation and I argued as much in my review of the book. Sadly, you can still find Christians like Spiegel who are willing to issue indefensible blanket declarations that all atheism is attributable to malevolent dispositions.
No less absurd or ignorant is the supposition that all belief that there is a God can be dismissed on equally sweeping grounds, in this case that of cognitive deficiency (i.e. irrationality). And I believe that lesson comes through loud and clear in the debate.
So whether you’re an atheist or a theist, a Republican or a Democrat, an anarchist or an authoritarian, a Platonist or a nominalist, a deontologist or a utilitarian, or whatever, please keep the following in mind:
While it may be tempting to engage in sweeping dismissals of well established dissenting opinions with recourse to moral or cognitive deficiency, doing so rarely if ever serves the cause of truth.