From: Skeptic Mag Hotline
Date: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 11:38:44 -0800

Fellow skeptics:

Welcome to another edition of SkepticMag Hotline, the internet edition of Skeptic magazine and the cyberspace voice of the Skeptics Society. For further information about the magazine and society, contact P.O. Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001; 626/794-3119 (phone); 626/794-1301 (fax); and or send your message telepathically and we will respond in kind.

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Michael Shermer
Publisher --------------------- OOPS, SHERMER LOSES GOD DEBATE!

Hey gang, you are going to love this one. It looks like my declaration of God- debate victory may have been premature. Remember I said that my mother-in-law heard the minister of the church say that I won the debate? Well, this skeptics hotline goes out to more people than I imagined as the minister himself got that posting and naturally wanted to qualify what he said! Here is the good minister's own words (Dr. David Miller):

"I said that you won in terms of communicating your points to the common person in that you were far more interesting than Doug. But, I also said that in the terms of a formal debate, Doug was the clear winner, in that he addressed the issue in an organized and consistent manner. Having done some formal debating in the past, I saw your approach as being winsome and even entertaining at times, but not carefully constructed, nor well-focused on the specific issue of the debate. In my opinion, you seemed engaging, but disorganized and shallow in your presentation. Simply put, to me you were sure a lot more fun to listen to than Doug, but not very deep or organized. Doug, on the other hand, was philosophically deep and well-reasoned, but often too boring for the audience. Doug was organized, stayed with his seven points, and defended your objections made to his points. Perhaps your dear mother-in-law left in her excitement after hearing my first comments, and failed to stay for what followed. In case you have not heard, the tally of responses on the Great Debate cards was as follows: 89.9% believed Doug presented a better case. 10.1% believed you presented a better case. Number of people indicating they switched their position to belief in God's existence: 21 Number of people indicating they switched their position to doubting in God's existence: 0"

Okay, let's think about this for a moment:

1. I think 10% is pretty damn good considering only about 50 hands out of the 1500 or so went up when the minister asked for a show of hands of who came to support me. So, statistically, if 3 percent supported me at the start and 10 percent at the end, then I effected a 300% increase. No bad. As for the process of voting who won a debate on God held in an evangelical church with "true believers" voting, hell, Geivett could have read the phone book and they would have said he won! That's the nature of the biz. Republicans will say their man won no matter what, and the Democrats will as well. That's the way these things go.

2. I am not at all surprised that 0 people abandoned their belief in God in one evening. That is simply not how deconversion experiences happen. But 21 people came to the debate with no belief in God and suddenly converted right there on the spot after hearing Doug Geivett's "proofs" of God? I am very skeptical of this for the simple reason that sociologists of religion have shown that almost no one converts for purely rational reasons. They may SAY they believe for rational reasons, but they convert for emotional reasons.

3. More seriously, I did, in fact, address the subject of the debate, and I did so quite directly. The fact that I chose not to follow Doug Geivett's point by point presentation means nothing, other than this is what Dr. Miller expected me to do. Recall the subject of the debate was: "DOES GOD EXIST? WHERE DOES THE EVIDENCE POINT?"

In fact, I argued that God's existence or nonexistence is insoluble by any rational or scientific means. But all the evidence points to the CONCEPT of God, and religion as a manifestation of belief, as being socially constructed. Dr. Miller (and no doubt most of the believers there) missed this point because they were locked into Christian apologetics which defines the problem a certain way. But, as I pointed out over and over and over (including with a little joke about "there being only two type of theories: those that divide the world into two types of theories, and those that don't"), there are other ways to look at the question of God's existence. One of those ways is that "God" is a concept created by humans. I presented evidence for that.

Now, someone may argue that I did not make my case very well, or that this evidence is weak, but one cannot argue that I did not argue the issue at hand. I most assuredly did! To reiterate: Does God Exist? The evidence all points to the concept of God as existing in people's minds and nowhere else. This is why I spent a considerable amount of my time on comparative mythology, such as all the flood myths that pre-date the Noachian flood myth story, the eternal- recurring messiah myth, especially prevelant among oppressed peoples like the Dakota Sioux Ghost Dance of 1890 and the first century Jews who saw Jesus as the messiah, and so on. I also pointed out several times that all theologians know that the Bible was constructed, edited, and redacted out of numerous documents from numerous locals over a long span of time. What else COULD the Bible be BUT human constructed? Their out, of course, is that somehow God reached down and divinely inspired the editing process, but to so state that is hardly what one would call "proof."

My question for Dr. Miller and all the other believers out there with regard to "proving" God is this: why do you feel a need to PROVE your belief? Most religions around the world, and even most Jews and Christians in the Western world, would find this process rather foreign. Why not just believe on faith and leave it at that? It's no one's business WHY you believe. No one really cares why you believe in God. Why isn't faith enough? Just curious.

Michael Shermer

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