What a debate about the existence of God should not be
If you are considering having a debate concerning the existence of God, here are a few things to keep in mind in order to minimize that amount of your audience's time that you waste. These are just a few things such a debate should not be, because so many professional, scholarly debators can't seem to stick to the program. The debate should not be...
- A time to express your displeasure for the actions taken in the name of any particular religion. There have been many situations where people from various religions have felt that God had some direct instructions for them to perform and it didn't matter how strange the instructions were, they were from God and therefore justified in whatever action they took. You can argue objectively that this is the inherent danger of religious belief, but that is your own subject objectivity. To a person who believes themselves a servant of God this argument is meaningless. It does nothing. It would be perceived as an attempt to reason them into a position of giving up their beliefs on the grounds that those ideas can enable people to commit atrocious acts against humanity without any basis for justification. They would agree that other people are engaged in this behavior, but they have their own authoritative system that still says they are in the right. They would also agree that every other religion should sit and ponder your point.
- A time to insist that your debating opponent must have all the answers to the origin of the universe. If I believed that a normal function of a colony of ants was to build automobiles underground then it might be important for me to understand the actual process by which people come to aquire cars before having some debate about whether Henry Ford existed. This would just be the case of me operating off some incorrect information that could be easily fixed by giving me verifyable facts. If your answer to "How did the universe get here?" is "God did it.", you cannot think that you have thoroughly answered the question and expect that any failure on your opponents part to have complete answers should have any bearing on the subject at hand. It doesn't. It seems like a cheap tactic because you finally realized that the burden of proof is on proving the positive (i.e. you got some work to do), so you try and put some burden back.
- A time to try and figure out who has the burden of proof. The physical sciences do not have an explaination for why the universe began when it did or how it did. And perhaps may never be able to. It could be that is a question impossible to answer while being a resident of that region of time and space know as our universe. Or it could be some additional scientific break throughs in the next century will really start to fill in those gaps. We cannot predict what science may uncover. The important thing to understand here is that it does not matter. Two children may debate the existence of Santa Claus. And the believer may challenge his opponent to explain how the presents appear under the tree Christmas morning. If the child knows where the presents come from it can strengthen his case for non-existence. But if the child does have a full understanding and explanation, it should not be seen as decreasing the credibility of the case he makes. For his case is basically "Demonstrate that Santa exists". It is a request for information. There is no question where the burden lies. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that any gap in our scientific understanding must be attributed to God. Which is what the whole God of the gaps concept addresses.
- A time to try your hand at making rules for God. Or to put it another way, the suggestion that if God existed he must be a cruel one for not making us perfect and for constantly throwing natural disasters our way affecting the guilty and innocent alike. This is just a variant of the arguement that considers the actions taken in the name of religion to be somehow relevant to the debate. It is not. You can sit and imagine that you know how God "should" behave and what rules he "should" follow, but those imaginations do nothing to move this debate forward. And quite frankly just sounds like you still dealing with your own doubts. Trying to discover if the "other side" has developed an argument that let's them cope with this apparent discrepancy in a way you judge rational. Perhaps it is discovered that the God of this universe is a bit more "hands-offish" than anyone guessed? Whoopy! At least you have gotten to a proof of a God, which is what this debate was supposed to be about. Remember? Even if you solidly prove that no religion's dipction of God matches what we see in reality, have you made any progress with this debate? No.
Thank you for your time and attention.