Alex Debates Atheist Matt Dillahunty

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#1
I've been saying I'd be happy to debate any publicly known Atheist. It was a anytime-anywhere kind of challenge that one Skeptiko listener (Brian) took me up on by arranging an interview with Matt Dillahunty. After I couple of emails Matt and I decided that this thread might work better than an recorded interview... here goes.

BTW Matt asked we not open the thread up to everyone so we can focus on the exchange between he and I, but I certainly encourage a parallel thread for your input.

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Matt's Bio (from our friends at Wikipedia :))

Matt Dillahunty
(born March 31, 1969) is a public speaker, internet personality and was the president of the Atheist Community of Austin until May, 2013.[2] He hosts the Austin-based webcast and cable-access television show The Atheist Experience, and formerly hosted the live internet radio show Non-Prophets Radio.[3] He is also the founder and contributor of the counter-apologetics encyclopedia Iron Chariots and its subsidiary sites.[4]

He is regularly engaged in formal debates and travels the United States speaking to local secular organizations and university groups as part of the Secular Student Alliance's Speakers Bureau.[5]

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To: Matt Dillahunty, 1/8/14

I've done a number of shows on Atheism and the problems resolving the New Atheist creed with consciousness science. Would be delighted to dialog with you about this on Skeptiko.

Suggested dates/times:
2/11 9am, 10am or 11am pacific... or same times on 2/13. Or other times that might work for you.

Relevant Skeptiko episodes:
http://www.skeptiko.com/221-atheist-john-loftus-biological-robot/
http://www.skeptiko.com/219-dr-stephen-law-extraordinary-claims/
http://www.skeptiko.com/victor-stenger-slams-parapsychology-calls-stanley-krippner-charlatan/
http://www.skeptiko.com/217-gary-marcus-near-death-experience/


Dopey Science (Atheism) Creed
1. There is no purpose to anything. I maintain that my life has no purpose, no meaning, and no destiny. The same is true of the entire universe.

2. There is no "right" or "wrong". Free will is an illusion. I affirm that my morals come from my genes and my conditioning rather than any decisions I make, because there is no "me". It's an illusion.3. And there are no "good people". Nor have there ever been any mystics, sages, prophets, or saints. There are no "bad people" either.

4. All reports throughout history of encounters with spirits, angles, ghosts and supernatural beings are bunk, regardless of the credibility of the witnesses or there number.

5. I am my brain. The death of my body is the death of me and my consciousness. All encounters with those who have died are an illusion.

Looking forward to talking with you,
Alex
 
#2
Hi Alex,

I'm definitely interested, but I have a day job and I can't commit to weekdays right now. If those are the only times available, I guess I'll have to pass.

And...I don't subscribe to the creed you outlined. FYI

- Matt Dillahunty
 
#3
Hi Alex,

I'm definitely interested, but I have a day job and I can't commit to weekdays right now. If those are the only times available, I guess I'll have to pass.

And...I don't subscribe to the creed you outlined. FYI

- Matt Dillahunty
no prob to re schedule.

but I don't get the rest... it's all standard stuff for the Dawkins/Dennett crowd:

1. what is the non-biological meaning/purpose of life? where does it come from?

2. who/what determines "good" and "bad"?

3. do you think "consciousness is an illusion", Daniel Dennett?

4. do you think we are "biological robots", Richard Dawkins?

listen to the shows linked above and see if you want to do this.
 
#4
no prob to re schedule.

but I don't get the rest... it's all standard stuff for the Dawkins/Dennett crowd:

1. what is the non-biological meaning/purpose of life? where does it come from?

2. who/what determines "good" and "bad"?

3. do you think "consciousness is an illusion", Daniel Dennett?

4. do you think we are "biological robots", Richard Dawkins?

listen to the shows linked above and see if you want to do this.
" it's all standard stuff for the Dawkins/Dennett crowd"Actually, I don't think that you're correct about it being standard. But what I was saying was that I don't subscribe to the creed (all of it, as written).

Instead of responding merely to your re-wording, let me cut/paste the original:

Dopey Science (Atheism) Creed
1. There is no purpose to anything. I maintain that my life has no purpose, no meaning, and no destiny. The same is true of the entire universe.

ME: I see no reason to accept assertions that there is some externally imposed, agent-guided purpose to life. My life has plenty of meaning and purpose - we imbue things with meaning and purpose. We even specifically create things with an intended purpose in mind - so it's hyperbolic, at best and simply false, at worst to claim "There is no purpose to anything". It's sloppy wording that attempts to straw man the actual position which is: The assertion that life has an externally-imposed, agent-guided purpose has not met its burden of proof.


2. There is no "right" or "wrong". Free will is an illusion. I affirm that my morals come from my genes and my conditioning rather than any decisions I make, because there is no "me". It's an illusion.

ME: This is a mess of combining issues. Free will may be an illusion, depending on how it is defined - but that might be irrelevant to issues of morality. I've lectured on the superiority of secular morality many times (there are several different talks online) and I not only advocate for right and wrong (not as extant things but as non-subjective values) but also moral absolutes (with the caveat that each situation is considered independently) and I make no appeal to genes or conditioning or claim that there is no "me". I have consistently and repeatedly rejected moral relativism...as has Sam Harris.

3. And there are no "good people". Nor have there ever been any mystics, sages, prophets, or saints. There are no "bad people" either.

ME: This is another mess of combining issues. What does "good people" mean? If I had to guess, I think I'll accept the notion that people, generally speaking aren't wholly good or bad...or intrinsically good or bad, but instead there are people who do good things and people who do bad things. There are certainly people for whom the quality or quantity of good or bad things they've done is most easily summarized by calling them "good" or "bad"...but that's a shortcut generalization that is more colloquial than philosphical.

There have most definitely people who have been labeled mystics, sages, prophets and saints. Whether or not the abilities attributed to them are real, or not, is a separate question. But I don't (and most skeptical atheists I've met wouldn't) assert that these claims are false...merely that these claims haven't met their burden of proof and can't rationally be considered to be true.


4. All reports throughout history of encounters with spirits, angles, ghosts and supernatural beings are bunk, regardless of the credibility of the witnesses or there number.

ME: The response here is the same as for the last one. I don't believe the claims are true. That doesn't mean that I believe the claims are false. The truth of an claim isn't in any way impacted by the number of people who accept it, nor by their apparent credibility, nor by the sincerity or degree of their conviction. But pointing out that a claim hasn't met it's burden of proof and cannot rationally be considered "true" is NOT the same as claiming that the claim is false.

You've constructed a straw man that equates "I don't believe this is true" with "I believe this is false"...which is simply false.


5. I am my brain. The death of my body is the death of me and my consciousness. All encounters with those who have died are an illusion.

ME: In many ways, "I am my brain" is true. Is it exhaustively true, in all contexts? Nope. But when talking about who I am, those aspects produced by my brain certainly have primacy. As far as we can tell, when my brain dies, I cease to exist. There's no demonstrated mechanism for consciousness to persist beyond death. There are a lot of complicated discussions to be had about identity and self... but you gloss over that in the creed for a simply assertion followed by another exaggerated straw man. I do not assert that the claimed encounters people have had are ALL an illusion. I don't propose an explanation for ALL of them. I don't necessarily propose an explanation for ANY of them (though we can be reasonable confident that delusions do occur).

My position isn't "All encounters with those who have died are an illusion". It's "No encounters with those who have died have been confirmed to actually be as claimed".

There's a big difference, there - and it's one you've repeatedly misrepresented in your creed.
 
#5
Hi Matt... suggestion... why don't a post this on the Skeptiko forum and you an I can hash it out as a email interview.

let me know if you're up for it and I'll post it.
 
#6
Hi Matt... suggestion... why don't a post this on the Skeptiko forum and you an I can hash it out as a email interview.

let me know if you're up for it and I'll post it.
I have 6,797 unread e-mails and my day job is on the line. While, in the past, I'd have jumped at the chance - I simply don't have the time to commit to forum discussions.

That said, as long as there aren't any expectations about when or if I'll be able to respond - and the thread is just the two of us (so that I don't have to try to keep up with a dozen different conversations), I'm willing to give it a shot.
 
#7
I don't subscribe to the creed (all of it, as written).

Instead of responding merely to your re-wording, let me cut/paste the original:

Dopey Science (Atheism) Creed
1. There is no purpose to anything. I maintain that my life has no purpose, no meaning, and no destiny. The same is true of the entire universe.


ME: I see no reason to accept assertions that there is some externally imposed, agent-guided purpose to life.
Then you're agreeing with the "life has no meaning" creed.

My life has plenty of meaning and purpose - we imbue things with meaning and purpose.
Ok, but that is logically inconsistent... that's why Daniel Dennett asserts that consciousness is an illusion. Either the "meaning and purpose" you give life is an illusion (i.e. something that's completely in your brain) or it's not.

Moreover, this is nonsense because no one lives their life like this. No one thinks the love they have for their family, their children, their closest friends, is all a trick of the mind. In fact, anyone who really believes this would have no reason to live... why perpetuate an absurd illusion?


2. There is no "right" or "wrong". Free will is an illusion. I affirm that my morals come from my genes and my conditioning rather than any decisions I make, because there is no "me". It's an illusion.

ME: This is a mess of combining issues. Free will may be an illusion, depending on how it is defined - but that might be irrelevant to issues of morality. I've lectured on the superiority of secular morality many times (there are several different talks online) and I not only advocate for right and wrong (not as extant things but as non-subjective values) but also moral absolutes (with the caveat that each situation is considered independently) and I make no appeal to genes or conditioning or claim that there is no "me". I have consistently and repeatedly rejected moral relativism...as has Sam Harris.
Well, you might have to lecture us one more time because "secular morality" doesn't make any sense in a meaningless universe. The fact that you and others have bought into Sam Harris's slight of hand doesn't make it any more defensible.

3. And there are no "good people". Nor have there ever been any mystics, sages, prophets, or saints. There are no "bad people" either.

ME: This is another mess of combining issues. What does "good people" mean? If I had to guess, I think I'll accept the notion that people, generally speaking aren't wholly good or bad...or intrinsically good or bad, but instead there are people who do good things and people who do bad things.
Again, we're hashing over the same issue... if there is no "meaning" then there's no objective reality to such ideas as "good" and "bad"... forget about your notions of "wholly good or bad" there's not even "somewhat good or bad".

Your buddy Sam Harris tries to get around this problem by appealing to neuroscience and claiming that we know enough about the brain and it's relationship to the physical world so as to allow a new "scientific" mapping of "good and bad". This is silly on a number of levels, but most importantly for our discussion it is rigidly wed to the idea that mind=brain. If there's any case where mind is not equal to brain, then his idea crumbles.

4. All reports throughout history of encounters with spirits, angles, ghosts and supernatural beings are bunk, regardless of the credibility of the witnesses or there number.

ME: The response here is the same as for the last one. I don't believe the claims are true. That doesn't mean that I believe the claims are false. The truth of an claim isn't in any way impacted by the number of people who accept it, nor by their apparent credibility, nor by the sincerity or degree of their conviction. But pointing out that a claim hasn't met it's burden of proof and cannot rationally be considered "true" is NOT the same as claiming that the claim is false.
Well, thank goodness for scientific methods, and peer review and all that stuff or we'd just have an endless chain of "strawman" charges by those who claim to be standard bearers for the "burden of proof".



5. I am my brain. The death of my body is the death of me and my consciousness. All encounters with those who have died are an illusion.

ME: In many ways, "I am my brain" is true. Is it exhaustively true, in all contexts? Nope.
Great... now we're getting somewhere... tell me when mind=brain is not true?

But when talking about who I am, those aspects produced by my brain certainly have primacy. As far as we can tell, when my brain dies, I cease to exist. There's no demonstrated mechanism for consciousness to persist beyond death.
What is the "demonstrated mechanism" for consciousness to exist before death?

Ok Matt, this has been a great first round of dialog.... hope we can keep it going as I think we're quickly moving into the issues we care most about on Skeptiko -- what does consciousness science tell us about who we are?
 
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