Debate with Michael Shermer at Northern Arizona University

If you attended tonight’s debate at Northern Arizona University, I want to thank you for coming, and let you know that I welcome your comments or questions.

Please feel free to post them here in the comments box.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking.

9 Responses to Debate with Michael Shermer at Northern Arizona University

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Julian,

    I remember our good conversation following the debate. I truly appreciate your interest!

    Thanks for pointing out the YouTube vid. I’ll definitely have a look. When talking about the sort of cause that could have brought the universe into existence, the business about agency is critical, don’t you think?

    Morality

    Morality is concerned with the character of persons and actions. Persons may be more or less virtuous, and actions may be morally right, morally wrong, or morally indifferent. Being a virtuous person is a matter of having good character, and acting from virtue (or good character) in whatever is done. (A person could do “the right thing” without being virtuous, or acting from virtue.)

    So morality (or ethics) is a domain of thought and action that is concerned with the evaluation of persons and their acts. There are different theories about what makes a good person good and a right action right. A complete theory of morality will seek to explain many things: (1) what it means to be a good person, (2) what counts as a good life, (3) what makes a right action right and a wrong action wrong, (4) how to know whether this or that action is right or wrong, and so forth.

    During the debate, I suggested that theism provides a very good explanation for the fact that humans are beings with proper concern about objective morality. Moral truths transcend our preferences and morally responsible action depends on our ability to act freely; so moral truths and their imperative force in our lives cannot be the result of human biological and social evolution. Naturalism, then, is in a very difficult position. It does not seem to be able to explain this feature of reality, and it appears desperate if naturalists respond by simply denying that morality has this kind of force for us.

    Now, a wholly separate question is this: How do we know, in any particular case, whether an action is morally right or morally wrong? Basic to any judgment about what is or is not right or wrong is a knowledge of fundamental moral principles. At least certain fundamental moral principles, I claim, are nearly universally recognized. They include, for example, that it is morally wrong to take the life of an undeserving person simply for pleasure or personal gain. There may well be disagreement about what is or is not “deserving” and whether the goal of a particular action is or is not pleasure or personal gain. But the principle stands. And some may deny that this is a fundamental moral truth without exception. I maintain that those who deny this are simply mistaken. Either they know the principle to be true, and are being dishonest when they deny it, or they are morally obtuse or dull, lacking a normal capacity to make a natural and correct moral judgment.

    How are such basic truths known? By means of a faculty we have for moral perception. We bring the meaning of the action before our minds and simply recognize the absolute and inherent wrongness of the act. Some have called this a faculty of “moral intuition.” It involves a direct kind of “seeing” something to be true. In that respect, we find out or “discover” what is right and what is wrong. (Other moral truths may be known in other ways, some of them on the basis of more fundamental truths that we know in this basic way.) The point is, we are directly acquainted with the moral value of some actions, at least.

    This, too, is something that we must take into account in our worldview. And I believe theism is in a much better position than naturalism to do this. According to theism, human persons are equipped by their Creator with a special faculty for moral awareness. But the scientific or materialistic naturalist is hard pressed to explain why we should have such a faculty, especially in light of the transcendent character of what is known (see above).

    Of course, we may not like what we discover to be true in the realm of morality. To make such a discovery is, after all, to discover obligations that we have and to recognize that our conduct is under judgment for its rightness and wrongness, however much we prefer to act the way we do. So we may deny that we know what we do actually know.

    What about the sociopath? If there is such a person type, then he or she is operating with a disability, in that his or her faculty of moral perception is malfunctioning. I mention this only because I remember that we talked about this as well.

    It’s good hearing from you. I will check out the video you recommended.

    Your friend,

    Doug

  2. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Chelsea,

    First, thanks for coming to the debate. And thanks for taking time to write with your questions. I look forward to posting replies within the next week or so. I have a couple of other writing and speaking commitments to complete. Then I’ll post replies.

    Cheers!

    -Doug

  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for your excellent questions and your interest in the debate. I want to give your questions the consideration they deserve. To do this I’ll need a few days (maybe even a week) to catch up on some other deadlines I have for my writing and speaking.

    I can say now that I don’t have any plans to be in Flagstaff, but that I would be very happy to meet with you whenever it can be arranged!

    Again, thanks for coming to the debate and for sending me your questions.

    -Doug

  4. Brandon Kelone says:

    Doug,
    First off, I would just like to thank you for coming to campus for the debate. I found it to be interesting and genuinely felt that you were the better speaker despite our differing in beliefs.

    I was happy to have had the opportunity to pose a question to you after the debate (sorry for mixing your name up [I believe that I called you Dan]), but I felt that the question was not adequately answered. This may have been due to the lack of time that you had to answer, the complexity of the question, or any number of other things.

    For this reason, I wanted to re-ask the question to you here along with some other questions. I have numbered them to make them easier to answer and look forward to hearing your responses.

    1. With all of the different sects within Christianity, and moreover, all of the religions in the world, how is someone to go about picking the “right” higher power when the potential punishment for choosing wrong is eternal damnation. Additionally, why is it that someone should be sentenced to eternal suffering merely because they were born in a part of the world that favors the “wrong” religion?

    2. Now that we have the means by which to transmit information quickly and reliably (camcorders, internet, ect.) why is it that God doesn’t just come down to Earth and actually prove that he exists? The kind of miracles that took place in the Bible just don’t seem to be happening anymore. Why is that, and how do Christians allow themselves to believe the events of the Bible that have not been accurately documented in any way (other than writing of course)?

    3. Why is God jealous? Christians tell me again and again that their God is a jealous God (“It says so right in the Bible” they always tell me), but what is there to be jealous about? If there is only one God, why is he jealous? Wouldn’t that be like me being jealous of the other Brandon Artris Kelone who is trying to outdo me when I know that there isn’t another me? Also, to go back to the previous question, why doesn’t God just come down to Earth and show us that he’s the “right” God so that other faiths can convert to Christianity?

    4. Christians always tell me that God cannot be measured by human standards, but jealousy is a human trait. So why is it that we can apply jealousy to God, but other human descriptors aren’t applicable to Him? Isn’t this a contradiction?

    5. I have been told by Christians that the mere existence of the universe is proof of God. They say that because there is something rather than nothing proves that something (i.e. God) created the universe. This inevitably leads to the question of who/what created God, to which the answer is “nothing/no one created God, He’s been in existence forever.” If this is true though, why can’t the universe have been in existence forever? Why is it that only God is allowed to operate outside of these rules?

    6. The Bible tells us that God created man and that we are special because we were created in His image.(Ignoring the contradiction that we’re still not allowed to judge him based on human standards) How is it then that you can believe in a universe that is completely absent of life considering its size? Mathematically, it only makes sense that other life forms exist. Does God just not love them, or do they have another God that created them?

    Again, thank you so much for visiting our university. Religion (or lack thereof) plays a major role in my life and these are questions that trouble me greatly. As I stated at the debate, these are questions that have led to my conversion from Christianity and any insight that you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Best regards,

    Brandon Kelone.

    P.S. Will you be visiting Flagstaff again in the future? I would very much like the opportunity to speak with you over a cup of coffee or lunch (on me) if the opportunity ever makes itself available.

  5. Chelsea says:

    Thank you so much for stopping by our campus!

    I have a few followup questions for you:
    1. What support can you give for Theism vs. Deism?
    2. From there, what makes Christianity the most logical Theist religion?

    I’ve been Christian for quite a few years, but have been struggling lately with the whole concept of Jesus Christ as son of God. So if you could answer those questions or point me somewhere to find some answers, I’d appreciate it.

    Thanks.

  6. Hello, Doug Geivett. We spoke last night. I wore a leather jacket and boots, and black clothing, and I had long hair.
    I really do have trouble understanding the idea of universal morality. I looked up “morality” in the dictionary, and “good,” and “Ethics.” and they all seemed to refer to each other. What is the definition of morality that you use? It seemed like you were just saying that everyone can simply see what is right and wrong, and if you can’t see it, then there is something wrong with you.

    I was certain that I heard your argument about the origin of the universe somewhere before, and I found it. Someone proposed it to “The Atheist Experience.” I saw it in 2 videos of YouTube. The only difference being that you talked about agency. Would you like to see it? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfTh5-mxrcg&feature=related
    Have you ever seen this program before? It might be fun to call in with your arguments.

  7. Robert Kunda says:

    Well that’s a bummer. That seems to be a trend. I’ve only been able to find one of your debates online. Hope it went well anyway!

  8. Doug Geivett says:

    Thanks for your interest, Robert. I’m afraid the debate was not recorded.

  9. Robert Kunda says:

    Is the audio available?

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