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How to win an argument

Posted by Ben on Tuesday, December 05, 2006 | Permalink

If your annoyance levees are feeling solid and secure, then take a stroll over here and witness Sam Harris endure the email equivalent of closing his eyes and running at a wall. If you've debated religious bods of any stripe for any amount of time, you'll recognise plenty of the usual arguments from Prager, stuff that many of the fundie clots that roll up here have deployed in the past.

Is it really reason and common sense that lead atheists to their certitude that everything, all existence, came about by sheer chance?
Atheist certainty and religious certainty are both faith claims that transcend reason and common sense.
When I look at the unjust world God created, I have questions, sometimes even doubts. But not atheists like you, Sam. No, they look at love and consciousness, at the grandeur of the universe, at the birth of a child, and they hear Bach's music and conclude that all of this and everything else just came about by itself.
The atheist says he knows, despite the fact that what he "knows" is unprovable. The believer believes because he knows that what he believes is ultimately unprovable.
If I and all other believers in God are to be lumped with Muslims who believe that slaughtering innocents gets you sex in heaven, then you must be lumped with Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung and all the other atheists who butchered more innocents than all the religious crackpots in history.
Do you not know about people such as Francis Collins?...Is Francis Collins irrational, lacking in common sense, unaware of evidence, and intellectually dishonest? Would you like to debate Francis Collins about God based on the scientific evidence and common sense? I doubt it.

That's only in the first email! Man alive, I felt myself want to reach across the internets and slap him silly just copying that stuff over. He carries on with the Francis Collins stuff later after Harris says he'd be happy to debate him (had, indeed, invited Collins to do that very thing) and Prager's response is 100% not-nearly-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is snark:

I may have erred in assuming that you, like myself and nearly all other mortals, could not match Dr. Francis Collins 'the head of the human genome project' in his knowledge of human genetics. So if, as a graduate student in neuroscience, you have already approached Collins' level of expertise, I salute you and exclude you from the vast majority of atheists or theists who could not debate him about the science that leads him to belief in God.

And this is supposed to be a serious debate. Me, I reckon it's a deliberate tactic - it's not even remotely approaching a genuine attempt to grapple with the arguments, just a series of cheap shots and logical fallacies that appeal to his audience and not much else. And that's how they win arguments - via the playground tactic of getting the other guy to give up in disgust.

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