Friday, May 11, 2007

Nightline Face-Off - Does God Exist?

Via Goosing the Antithesis, ABC's Nightline recently featured the first in a series of debates for their Face-Off specials. This debate was on the subject of religion and more specifically whether or not God can be proven to exist. Who did they get to debate this issue you ask? For the theist side was Ray Comfort and former Growing Pains actor Kirk Cameron. These are the same people claiming bananas to be the atheist's nightmare and they have put together their own program for spreading evangelism called The Way of the Master. For the atheist side was Brian Sapient and his colleague Kelly from the Rational Response Squad. The RRS has made somewhat a name for themselves by encouraging people to take the blasphemy challenge.

To save you all the time, I'll just say that Comfort and Cameron failed at their task. Of course to all those who understand the universe to be a rationally observable reality this comes as no surprise. After centuries of religious domination and influence and even during the period of Religion's culmination (the Dark Ages) no proof of God's existence has been brought forward and none ever will.

Throughout the video it is evident that Comfort is no intellectual. In the same breath that he promises us not to use the Bible or argue from faith he does just that and continues to do so for the entire debate. From his manner of argumentation you can see that this issue stems from Comfort's ignorance on the very subject of faith and its definition. For an outspoken man of faith to not even know what faith really requires from its observer is astonishing. It's as if his education had stagnated since the fifth grade. For some clarity let's examine what philosopher Ayn Rand said was the essence of faith:

Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and one's reason. Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as "instinct," "intuition," "revelation," or any form of "just knowing." [emphasis original]
The importance of Rand's observation lies in her distinction between the real and non-real. The real is the observable. To see the real all that is required is the use of one's senses. On the other hand, the non-real is the unobservable. To make claim to the unobservable requires man to deny his senses for some other non-rational means of knowledge that is not given by man's nature as a rational animal, i.e., faith. Comfort's abusive equivocation on this matter was evident every time he called into question the atheist validity. For him, learning about history or scientific laws is the same when taken on faith or when it's accounted for as an independent observation of reality.

His counterpart, Cameron, didn't provide any insight either to the discussion. His presence there seemed to be just for parroting Comfort but with more evangelist dressing to it. In his opening remarks, Cameron demonstrated his complete ignorance of the subject matter as he followed his mentor's lead. In those remarks he relates to the audience that he was once an atheist who has since found religion. The problem though is that he equates atheism with evolution. "[A]s a former atheist myself-an evolutionist-..." This should be avoided since atheism in essence has nothing to do with evolution. It doesn't for an individual to assent to evolution or not to be an atheist as there have been atheist prior to Darwin's theory of natural selection. There are many more good arguments taken from a metaphysical and epistemological standpoint to prove that God doesn't exist.

For the atheist side, I wouldn't give them a free pass. They made several arguments I found to be utterly weak and never really correct Comfort on his position of faith. They simply assumed that the audience understood why he was wrong. In a debate setting, correction your opponent's false premise should be key since it would stop them from making similar arguments along those lines. Their statements for a substitute to the morality provided by religious dogma were also egregious since they simply wished to replace God with society.

If you're looking for an intellectual debate on the non-existence of God you won't find it here. This is Nightline we're talking about here. I can't say I watch Nightline too often so its not to smear Nightline's reputation as a responsible media source. It's to merely recognize that such a intricate discussion on the impossibility of God can't be settled by such a setting. It's also reasonable to say that since Comfort and Cameron are by no stretch of the imagination influential intellectuals they can be viewed as merely God's foot soldiers. If we aim to refute their ideas we should cut them off at the root. We need to focus our attention at their intellectual foundation to show them for what they really are. Onward, Christian Soldiers no more; Stand Up for Reason.


Karen Kovaka said...

Michael - just an FYI - I finally responded to your comment on my site. Sorry about the delay.

Trey Givens said...

What bothers me about people who argue for Faith but don't know what the word even means is the fact that the Bible offers a very good definition of it at Hebrews 11:1. The verse and its meaning are quite clear and yet the Christians and theists of other brands ignore it for reasons unknown.

Michael Caution said...

I attempted to read the bible once but then I got to the whole begat this and begat that that it got old really fast. So I had to look up what you were referring to in Hebrews 11:1.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

I'd have to agree with you on this point. It's pretty clear in it's meaning and Rand's definition is similar to it even, just more elucidating.