David Silverman, the current President of the American Atheists and Frank Turek, a Christian author and public speaker, recently debated on the subject of whether theism or atheism best explains reality. I will post the video within this article, though as it runs for two hours and twenty one minutes, for the sake of brevity I’m going to examine one element of the debate I found to be both the most entertaining and hard hitting.
Is It Possible To Watch This Type Of Debate With Complete Objectivity?
Now of course I’m biased towards David Silverman’s viewpoints. I’m an atheist, one with nuanced views when it comes to spiritual experience and on the subject of consciousness, but I do not accept a god, or the supernatural. I preface this because I like my biases to be clear. We all have them. When you watch the debate you’ll see the audience clearly has a bias in favor of Frank, hence the timing of the applause and laughter, and of course the fact this debate took place in a church.
I do my best to watch these debates with an open perspective and not to allow my biases to filter the arguments too much. I do this by trying to cultivate a semblance of a meditative stillness that does not immediately judge what each speaker says. I fail a lot. When I hear arguments that know to be incoherent, disingenuous, and sometimes outright lies – watch the whole video, let me know your honest opinion as to who seemed more genuine and truthful in the comments if you like – the voice in my head immediately demands to be heard. Often I’ll pause the video and turn to my wife and counter the argument – in this case Frank’s – and then hope that David Silverman will respond adequately. In this debate, for the most part, he did a good job. But there was one area that I thought he did a brilliant job, and on this I will focus.
While I encourage any readers to watch the whole video to formulate your own viewpoint in fairness to the breadth of perspective a debate of this length has in comparison to the point of focus I’m choosing, you can skip ahead on the below video to the 1:25:15 mark precisely.
Moral Objectivity And Moral Relativism – Misconstrued by Frank So Repetitiously I Feel Compelled To Point It Out
To give context, at the start of the video Frank Turek tries to dispel any notion that David Silverman could use the argument from evil to make any convincing points. There is also a running theme throughout the entire debate of Frank deflecting arguments by using the fact of David’s declaration of moral relativism. When faced with a difficult question, or when ever David makes a statement regarding morality, he’ll mock David. What he fails to appreciate, or outright consciously misconstrues, is that David’s advocating of moral relativism does not mean there’s no good or evil, right or wrong, but simply that it’s not objective, and it’s fluid, and it’s decided by me and you, and by culture and society overtime.
Personally I see Sam Harris’s argument for a science of morality to be compelling, but that is apples and oranges in comparison to the theistic argument for an objective morality, using god as the standard from which all actions must be judged, and in the absence of, there can be no credibility to Man’s ability to judge others for deeds such as genocide, murder or rape. Frank also uses the Hitler card about 100 times – probably more, I didn’t count, but nor am I grossly exaggerating much, if at all, during the debate. The Hitler card should really be removed from the deck by now. But I digress, as I knew I would, so I’ll save that for another day.
And Now, At Last, The Point Of Focus – David Silverman’s Argument From Evil
David Silverman challenges Frank Turek on the fact that if god is omnipotent and omniscient, he knew that if he placed the tree of knowledge in spot ‘X’, that Adam would eat of its fruit, and that the fall would transpire. This argument hinges on the repeated question of, ‘Why does god need babies to be born with cancer?’ David hammers Frank with this question again, and again, at varying angles, demanding a satisfactory answer. Frank actually appeals to a minute and a half video – not even made by him – to try and give the best explanation, which is basically that god gave us the gift of free will, because without free will there can be no love, and it was Man who sinned, creating the fall, and bringing evil into this world.
David returns again, and again to the fact that if god knew with 100% certainty – which Frank does not dispute – that if he placed the tree of knowledge in point ‘X’, in oppose to point ‘Y’ – or just didn’t put it anywhere within reach – that we could have avoided the billions sent to hell, and childhood leukemia, babies born with cancer, and of course you can add a near never ending litany of horrors and sufferings to that list.
Frank does some real mental gymnastics when he can’t revert to his slides and videos. He claims that it simply just might not be possible to create a world where agents with free will can avoid sin – the limits of god’s omnipotence? – and claims that god knows the end from the beginning. David asserts, again, and again, that it was god who kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden – of course David doesn’t believe any of this happened, he’s just doing battle on Frank’s ground – because god knew with 100% certainty that by his own actions – placing the tree in spot ‘X’, that Adam was going to eat the apple, and therefore Adam had no free will in the act, and well, David basically asserts that would make god a villain and an ass.
If you have the interest, patience, and endurance to watch the whole debate, I once again encourage it. If not, perhaps just go to the spots where they’re allowed to have their back and forth and have a Q&A. Those parts of debates are always infinitely more interesting than the ‘you get your fifteen minutes, then i’ll get my fifteen minutes, then you get your ten minutes, then I’ll get my ten minutes’, portion of the debate.