The interlocutors submitted their second round of arguments and this time, they limited themselves to one piece each. You can read both pieces in their entirety over at VoxWorld. If you don’t read their arguments first, my judgment won’t make as much sense.
Opening Argument Summary
Vox’s argument can be summarized as, “E/L->gods because I can’t think of any better way to explain alleged moral consistency.”
Dominic’s argument can be summarized as, “E/L->no gods because first attempts at explanation are almost always incorrect.”
Extended Commentary: Vox’s Argument
In a move that can only be described as a strategic blunder, Vox spent 500+ words—over 15% of his total argument—trying to justify this loosely-defined “gods” concept as the subject of the debate, as if he hadn’t already covered this ad nauseum in the comment threads. Interestingly, even though Dominic admitted to “the mistake of overlooking the topic of the debate,” Vox reminds the less intelligent, “The atheist position that Dominic is championing is not defined as disbelief in the existence of the Christian God, but as disbelief in the existence of all gods. To his credit, Dominic understands and accepts this, and everyone would do well to follow his example.” For Pete’s sake Vox, we get it already. This would be much more enjoyable were it not so obvious that Vox thinks practically everybody besides himself is a complete moron worthy of talking down to.
When Vox gets around to debating, he wisely opts to strengthen his argument from moral evil, which I criticized as “fancy poetic metaphor” the first time around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give the argument the support it needs. Specifically, Vox attempts to prove A) that the existence of evil requires the presence of a source of good, and B) that the only entity capable of dictating an objective and definitive good is the Creator or His agent. He proved neither, and honestly, aside from his comments about pedophiles, I found his argument bloated, boring, and non-sequitur, filled with naked assertions to boot. Reference to an “internal brake” doesn’t prove anything. The failure of psychoanalysis doesn’t prove anything. Repeated allusion to the “failures of the materialist consensus” doesn’t prove anything. Vox simply asserts a “relatively small range of variations in moral sensibilities,” but a semi-educated person must wonder what planet he’s referring to. IMHO, the variations throughout history cannot be called anything but gaping. People used to toss others to lions for entertainment. Slavery used to be a-okay. Even the Israelites used to stone people for things we teach in elementary school. Need I go on? Hell, Vox himself seems to think that the “Law” is arbitrary. Even if we granted Vox’s claim—which we ought not—moral consistency doesn’t prove an external Law or a Lawgiver. Moral consistency is just as consistent with common evolutionary and biological underpinnings, as Dominic noted in Round One.
Returning to the creative writer within, Vox writes, “The Law can only be broken if the Law exists. Evil can only exist in the presence of the Good.” Spare me! This is the same poetic nonsense I rejected the first time around. People exist. They do things. There are some things most people like. There are other things most people dislike. None of this proves any sort of “law” or “evil” or “good” or “lawgiver.” Since this is the only argument Vox offers in this round, I have no choice but to conclude that he has not advanced his case.
Extended Commentary: Dominic’s Argument
Dominic attempts to falsify Vox’s claim that it is ahistorical and unscientific to dismiss the plethora of testimonial evidence for gods, but his attempt strikes me as hair-splitting hypocrisy: “The true statement would be that it is ahistorical to dismiss all testimonial evidence out of hand.” Dominic tries this “out of hand” distinction thinking it saves him, yet, astonishingly, he uses “cultural influence” as a reason to dismiss the testimonial evidence for gods out of hand! No longer does one need to evaluate case-by-case as Vox correctly suggested in Round One, Dominic can just dimiss it all categorically because of “cultural influence.” The support? “…show me someone who is possessed by a demon that spits on both the cross and the name of Christ who has never heard of Christianity or been exposed to anything Christian. Show me someone recounting an experience of being sexually molested by little grey aliens with big heads and huge hypnotic eyes who’d never heard of or been exposed to Hollywood films or other popular culture sources that tell us what aliens do and what they look like. There has been no such showing yet.” Pure chutzpah. Dominic should have done the research. If he or anyone else wishes to accuse me of unduly swift dismissal, we can have it out in the comments. I will supply what Dominic claims has not been shown.
Along similar lines, Dominic writes, “[testimonies of alien abduction are] a class of testimony that is equivalent to and practically indistinguishable from testimony of interactions with gods, as opposed to testimony of interactions with the mundane.” Dominic still doesn’t seem to understand that alien abduction testimonies are indistinguishable from testimonies of interactions with gods because they are testimonies of interactions with gods, according to the loose definition of “gods” supplied. Trying to draw this line of distinction is a failed endeavor. Further, to claim the two classes of testimony are “indistinguishable” is to completely undermine Dominic’s conclusion that “Gods are not real because the true reason for the eyewitness testimony that they are based on is something else entirely.” If he can’t distinguish between the testimonies of gods and aliens—as Dominic undeniably admitted—on what grounds does he distinguish enough to claim that testimonies of gods are based on something else entirely? This just isn’t adding up. Dominic didn’t show A3 false, and actually committed the error he sought to establish.
In response to Vox’s analogy from Round One, Dominic writes, “That it would have been silly for a hypothetical group of Aztecs to deny the existence of hostile Spainards before ever meeting a white man is intentional obfuscation, because Vox’s own argument is entirely dependent on the idea that the gods have in fact been met.” Good point, but to say Vox is “intentionally obfuscating” is presumptuous. Dominic doesn’t know that. After all, it remains possible that despite his MENSA membership, the “internet superintelligence” might have simply missed the obvious. After all, truth is stranger than fiction, right Dominic?
Turning towards Vox’s argument from moral evil, Dominic claims that Vox dashes his own argument to pieces by stating both:
…[the moral sense] is something that is simultaneously internal to the consciousness and outside the desires and the awareness of consequences,
It could also be a pre-programmed implant, in which case we would speak of the implanter rather than the transmitter.
Dominic creates the impression that these two statements are mutually exclusive. They are not. “Internal to the consciousness” doesn’t mean “generated / sustained / informed entirely from within.” It seems Dominic was too swift in his dismissal there. He did not show B3 false.
As for B4, whether or not man’s moral sense has changed much over time unfortunately depends on an arbitrary idea of what “changed much over time” means. As we’ve briefly explored, history shows a significant moral trajectory. On the other hand, some things have remained fairly constant, e.g., our concept of a “good” person is one who abstains from the seven deadly sins. Dominic uses vengeance to argue that our moral sense reverses polarity even in the here and now, but he overlooks the reason the death penalty is not murder. Murder is the taking of an innocent life. A true reversal would be Joe murdering an innocent person, then demanding justice when somebody else murders his wife. Even then, that wouldn’t necessarily prove a reversal. Joe may have had the “internal brake” present when murdering. Additionally, one might say the universal recognition of and desire for justice is a powerful argument in Vox’s favor: people have historically shown an unshakeable belief that the world should be—or at least could be—just. That’s beside the point. Vox didn’t show B4 true, but Dominic didn’t show it false.
Turning to his argument for the non-existence of gods, Dominic attempts to clarify and strengthen his “truth is stranger than fiction” argument. He appeals to phlogiston, ether, and geocentrism as examples proving the hypothesis that, “For any new experience or phenomenon, when man attempts to explain the phenomenon using the tools for understanding at his disposal, the first attempt at explanation is almost invariably wrong.” I grant that this seems intuitively true. After all, Darwinian gradualism was wrong much to the dismay of twentieth-century atheists, but what of Lyell, Kepler, Einstein, Hubble, and the Herschels, to name a few? Each of these individuals made first attempts that appear correct. It seems easy to offer examples that challenge his hypothesis, which makes one suspect Dominic is simply cherrypicking his way to the goal line. Regardless, Dominic doesn’t give any analysis to prove his point. How many “first explanations” have been correct? How many have been incorrect? He needs to give us a reason to believe that “the first attempt at explanation is almost invariably wrong.” That some first attempts have been wrong doesn’t entail that they are almost invariably wrong. Additionally, even if we grant his hypothesis, that almost all first attempts are invariably wrong doesn’t entail that any particular first attempt is necessarily wrong.
More importantly, “first explanations are usually wrong” only carries weight against explanations, which are distinct from experiences and observations, which are the prime constituents of testimonial evidence. The “plethora of evidence” Vox alludes to is mostly—perhaps even entirely—based on experiences and observations. With the exception of philosophers, the “plethora of evidence” wasn’t people saying to themselves, “Gee, I wonder what created the world, oh it must be this thing called God.” Rather, these were people going about their business then suddenly T-boned by the “supernatural” and miraculous. Granted, these things were explained as “gods,” but if gods are superhuman beings with control over nature, it doesn’t take much explanation to verify an instance. In contrast to celestial quandaries where definitive answers often elude, superhuman beings have either appeared and controlled nature, or not. No imagination is necessary. No explanation is required to observe this phenomenon, therefore it doesn’t seem vulnerable to the “first attempts at an explanation are almost invariably wrong” objection.
Dominic writes, “The response received so far to this argument has been a dismissive wave of obvious to Dominic does not make it true. The counter examples being perfectly mundane references to Starbucks and Internet porn. No imagination is necessary to postulate the existence of either, and the retort so far has been remarkably asinine. There is no need to rely on extrapolation to paint a complete picture when acertaining either Starbucks or Jenna Jameson is real.” That’s not entirely fair, as his claim has evolved a bit. The first time around, he said he finds “simple claims too convenient,” and although Vox’s rebuttal missed the mark, mine did not [murder convictions sustained by straightforward forensic evidence; Ockham’s razor]. So there was more than a “dismissive wave” behind the rejection of his first claim, and there is more than a “dismissive wave” behind the rejection of its descendant: myopic focus on incorrect first attempts doesn’t demonstrate the hypothesis, which itself is not germane to testimonial evidence.
Vox did not persuasively demonstrate his argument from moral evil. Dominic failed to show A3 and B3 false. B4 seems irrevocably tied to subjectivity hence still up for grabs. Dominic did not persuasively demonstrate his hypothesis that the first attempt at an explanation is almost invariably correct, nor did he attempt to account for the fact that testimony is distinct from explanation. I declare this round a draw.