Friday, September 07, 2012

The First Ever Atheist Versus Christian Debate in Malaysia

"I treated the Bible not as the word of God. I treated the Bible as a historical book, not just claiming that everything it says is accurate - although I do believe it."

Samuel Nesan, Supervising Manager
and Debate/Dialogue Representative
of the Young Apologist group

On the 25th of August 2012, two unprecedented and minimally historical things happened for the freethinking community of Malaysia. One, this is the first time we have come out to debate a theistic believer on question of God's existence. Two, this is the largest meeting of atheists to date in our country, which is not saying a whole lot since past secular soirees were typically held in places where alcohol floweth freely and attendance were in the range of about two dozen atheists, tops. It was jointly organised by the Young Apologist group (an organisation that seeks to explain the Christian God through logic and evidence) and the Malaysian Atheists, which I represented in a managerial capacity - which is to say that Chan Ju Ping hooked up with them and then left me to liaise with the Christian side as he go traipsing through some Sarawakian forest on a research trip. The bulk of the heavy lifting were done by the Christian side though since they had to arrange for the venue of the debate, provide the sound system, and supply a moderator slash timekeeper - but hey, they challenged us to debate in the first place, so I don't feel too bad about it.

Me? I just had to round up fifty atheists and get them to go to a... church. Yeah.

Incidentally, the video recording of the event (sans the introductory statement I gave) just hit YouTube earlier this week. The debaters were,

Samuel Nesan
Mr Samuel Nesan, a Christian apologist with a Bachelor in Theology from the Bible College of Malaysia.

Willie Hand
Mr Willie Poh, an atheist lecturer at the Multimedia University with a B.IT (Hons) Software Engineering, whatever that is.

The motion of the debate was worded simply: Does God Really Exist? "God" in this context, is defined as the Christian God as described by the Bible. The format of the debate was arranged thus,
  1. Opening statements from Sam and then Willie. Here they lay out their arguments.
  2. Rebuttals from Sam, followed by Willie's. Here they poop on each other's arguments.
  3. Cross examination, where they asks each other questions to clarify or to obfuscate each others' positions.
  4. Response segment, where they "respond" to the cross-examination they received, after they have already answered the questions during the cross examination itself. Yeah, I don't get this either.
  5. Summaries from Sam. Willie got the last word.
  6. The Q&A round, where written questions from the audience were collected and vetted by representatives from either side of the debate. I was the guy from our side, and I chose questions which were coherent and those which brought up issues not addressed within the debate proper.
The video recording were divvied by segments into ten easy-to-digest bits. The video quality is a bit iffy but the audio can be understood (depending on how tolerant you are of the Malaysian accent, of course). You may notice that the speakers repeatedly references "Dr Kok". That would be me.

So, since my opinion was repeatedly sought after during the debate, I will be writing short bit of commentary for each part, bringing up some highlights, and breaking Mr Samuel's arguments down into chewy bite-sized pieces.

Part 1: Opening Statement by Samuel Nesan

Okay. He brought up four arguments for the existence of the Christian God.
  • Argument from (Messianic) Prophecies: God as described by the Bible is real because it made predictions about the coming of Jesus; prophecies which are later corroborated within the same book.

    This is circular reasoning because you are using the Bible to prove the Bible to be true. There is also a major unstated premise built within it assuming the Bible to be a reliable record of such prophecies and their subsequent alleged fruition without providing any proof or evidence in support of that premise, therefore begging the question. This is the same book that talks about talking snakes and a guy who can turn water into wine, mind you. If it's published today, you'd ask if J. K. Rowling wrote it.

  • Argument from the Limits of Science: God is spirit and exists outside of space and time, so science can't be used to investigate the claims of God's existence.

    This is not so much an argument for the existence of God as it is saying you can't prove he doesn't. This is true. But then again, science can't prove the existence or non-existence of anything if you claim it lies outside of the material world. I can tell you that Batman exists but he lies outside of space-time too - does it automatically make his existence more plausible? Nope. This is also an example of Samuel trying to have his cake and eat it too as Christians also claims that their God physically flooded the whole damn world at some point. You'd think that that would leave a lot of indisputable evidence but modern geology have completely ruled out all possibilities of a global flood. And if you have trouble understanding geology, ask yourself this: how did the koalas and kangaroos knew they were suppose to live only in Australia - and no where else - after they disembarked from the ark? Why did all the polar bears go north while all the penguins go south? And if we can't find evidence for one of the most awesome of God's physical miracles in our material world (but instead find evidence against the events described within the Bible), then we must be honest and admit that the Bible is not a completely factual document and this should throw all of claims of Jesus' alleged miracles into the same sceptical light (to go back to Sam's first argument and kick it between the legs).

  • Argument from Experientialism: I feel God is real.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Okay. Willie's response to this is eloquent and elegant - or at least it would be eloquent and elegant if he actually finished his point before his time ran out during his turn to rebut so I'll reproduce it here. He told a story about how he, after watching a horror flick like Paranormal Activity, would be afraid of the dark and would feel a presence behind him when he's in bed. Does it mean that there was really a ghost or spirit behind him just because he felt it there? And why did the spook only started haunting him after he just saw a scary movie? Likewise, when a Christian says he or she feels God presence or love, does it mean that this God they describe necessarily exist? And why do they only have this feelings after reading the Bible? What about people who don't feel Jesus but feels the spirit of another deity from another religion instead? What about people like me who feels that God doesn't exist?

  • Argument from You-Can-Feel-God-Too: If you are truly sincere in accepting him into your heart!

    When I was in med school, I went to church for a bit. I read the Bible and tried inviting Jesus into my life sincerely as advised by my Christian friends. I felt nothing. Okay, that's not strictly true because I felt stupid doing that. So, if Samuel can use his experience as evidence, I can too.

Part 2: Opening Statement by Willie Poh

Part 3: Rebuttals by Samuel Nesan

He brought up the fine-tuned universe argument and argument from morality but since he did not go into them, I shall not either. Here are the most egregious points he did make,
  • According to Genesis 3:1-24, man had fallen and therefore cannot see God even if he's in front of our eyes.

    Yeap, this is a prime specimen of argument from scripture. This is only a valid argument if you can prove that the scripture you are referencing to be a reliable source of information which, as the Flood story showed, it is not. Can Samuel show us evidence that the events described in Genesis 3 really happened? Show us one talking snake, will you?

    I can't believe we have to argue that there's no such things as talking snakes to grownups.

  • Hell is just a place of eternal separation from God, not really a hellish torture chamber as depicted in medieval arts.

    Revelations 21:8 describes hell as a "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone". Matthew 13:49-50 says hell is "the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth". Revelations 14:11 claims people who have rejected Christ would be "tormented with fire and brimstone" and that "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night". I don't know about you but hell sure doesn't sound like a day at the spa to me.

  • The universe is unimaginably vast and old even though he only needed one planet and a few thousand years for his purpose because God is fucking powerful and he can do whatever weird thing he wants that makes no sense.

    This is basically the "God works in mysterious ways" gambit.

  • God does not break the laws of physics but intervenes through the laws of physics.

    Matthew 14:25
    had Jesus walking on water. In Exodus 14:21-22, God had more fun messing about with fluid physics by parting a damn sea. Jesus totally violated the conservation of mass when he multiplied the bread and fishes in Mark 6:41-44. Between this and the hell thing, I am starting to really wonder if Samuel have even read the Bible.

  • Evolution is not provable.

    E. coli is a bacteria and one of its defining characteristic, differentiating it from the pathogenic Salmonella, is its inability to utilise citrate as a source of energy under oxic condition. However, after growing more than 30,000 generations of these bacteria on a medium that is citrate-rich, they evolved the ability to do what they couldn't. Evolution is proven. In a lab. On a petri dish. And in my line of work, I fight the evolutionary progress of bacteria daily as they evolve resistance to the antibiotics I prescribe for my patients. Just to put it into perspective, this is what we all learnt in med school: In the 1930's, Neisseria gonorrhoeae was treated using sulfa drugs, which it quickly developed resistance to. In the '40s, penicillin became the drug of choice but doses had to be continually increased in order to remain effective. In the '70s, penicillin and tetracycline-resistant gonorrhea emerged and fluoroquinolones were then used - but soon, resistance to this antibiotic emerged as well. Since 2007, we've been using third-generation cephalosporins, (i.e. ceftriaxone) and reports of a cephalosporin-resistant strain had emerged as well. Evolution is not only provable, it is an everyday problem for me.

  • I believe in microevolution, not macroevolution.

    Microevolution is basically the changes in gene frequencies within a species or population while macroevolution occurs at the level of species or above it, resulting new species. What evolution-denialists like Samuel Nesan do not understand is that microevolution occurring over vast amounts of time results in macroevolution. Francis Collins, American physician-geneticist, head of the Human Genome Project and the current Director of the National Institutes of Health, said: "Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things." He is also an Evangelical Christian.

    One of the most dramatic examples of evolution in the fossil records is the Archaeopteryx, which was caught in the dramatic act of evolving from theropod dinosaurs into birds. My favourite example of evolution is how dog-like terrestrial hoofed carnivores called Pakicetids evolved into the modern whale.
    If you're interested, I have written about the evolution of the human appendix to bookmark the first successful appendicectomy I performed: The Most Dangerous of Worms.

Part 4: Rebuttals by Willie Poh

Part 5: Cross Examination of Willie by Samuel, and Vice Versa

In this segment, Samuel gets to ask Willie the hardest questions he know on the atheistic and scientific worldview we hold,
  • Question 1: Samuel brings up his beef with "macroevolution" by asking how life comes from non-life.

    This illustrates perfectly how little Samuel understood about the theory of evolution. The theory explains the complexity and diversity of life, but makes no statement on how life began so his question, while being an important one, is irrelevant to his objection to evolution - something I felt Willie should have highlighted to avoid perpetuating that misconception in his audiences' minds. The study of the origins of life is called abiogenesis and as Willie pointed out, the correct answer is "I don't know" and not "Goddidit". Willie referenced - though he did not name - the Miller-Urey experiment where replicating the conditions of early Earth, they were able to create amino acids (organic compounds) from inorganic compounds. In fact, they were able to synthesise more types of amino acids that the original twenty that all life on Earth requires. Joan Oró found that through a similar experiment, he could synthesise adenine from inorganic material - and this is a big deal because adenine is one of the 4 nucleotide bases that makes up RNA and DNA (the molecular genetic code of all life), and forms adenosine triphosphate (the energy currency of all life). As for how all these organised themselves into the first organisms, I would give a better answer than Willie's: We are working on it.

  • Question 2: How do you explain hauntings, demonic possessions, exorcism, shamanism, voodoo and other claptraps that I also believe in besides Jesus?

    Even if all these things are true, it still doesn't mean that God exists. It's baffling that Samuel would even bring all these up. Fact is, all these are claims. All we have to show for it are eyewitness accounts, crappy video and audio recordings, and a whole fat lot of non-reproducibility. As Willie said, many have tried their luck with James Randi's One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and could not even past preliminary testings once the confounding factors were removed. What we sceptics are saying is this: please prove to us that there is even a consistent, reproducible, unexplained phenomenon happening before asking science to describe and explain it.

  • Question 3: Are you saying that I - a believer of a cosmic superbeing out of space and time who impregnated a virgin Jewish girl in order to be born to get himself killed in order to forgive me of my sins which was caused by ancestors of mine ate a fruit after being duped by a talking snake - am delusional?

    Unfortunately, I can't medically say that Samuel is delusional. The psychiatric definition of a delusion is an unshakeable and irrational belief in something untrue which defy normal reasoning even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute it, with the caveat that that belief is not something cultural or religious which may be seen as untrue by outsiders. One thing that struck me in Psychiatry 101 back in my med school days is that a religious belief is virtually indistinguishable from a delusion, and it's only excluded because a person's surrounding community believes in the same thing too.

  • Question 4: Is atheism scientific?

    Willie said yes. I say it can be. Atheism is statement of disbelief in a god or gods. If you are an agnostic atheist like me who recognise that the existence of an omnipotent creator outside of space and time is an unfalsifiable claim (and is therefore a claim that cannot be proved or disproved by science), the only logical and honest position you can assume towards it is one of agnosticism. But I am also an atheist because I don't believe that there is such a being due to the lack of good evidence or reason to do so. In this case, I am also being a sceptic and scepticism is scientific.

The second half of this video is Willie turning the tables in Samuel with some cross examination of his own. Here are Willie's questions, Samuel's answers, and my critique of his answers,
  • Why are the awesome miracles only found during Old Testamental time, while modern alleged miracles are low-key and easily disputable? Samuel said miracles now are still awesome, by his standards, and that money-grabbing televangelists are a proof (haha) of that.

    Samuel essentially evaded Willie's question completely by applying his own definition of awesome to Willie's question, after Willie specifically defined awesome as the amount of physical effect a miracle has on the material world. If you like, here's a diagram I drew to illustrate how descriptions of miracles tended to be more epic in the past than they do now, and this is because you can make claims of anything happening in the past and if it happened far enough back in time, you can avoid pesky sceptics like me investigating that claim effectively.

    And just to bury Samuel's point further, I present to you the case of Peter Popoff, a once famous Christian faith healer who was making 4 million dollars a year healing people on TV - he was utterly dethroned by James Randi when his seeming-ability to guess people's personal info and even their illnesses came from a radio feed from his wife, the transmission of which was intercepted by Randi and recorded. You see, Popoff's wife and her aides gather information about audience members from conversations and prayer request cards filled out before service, and then beam them into Popoff's ear by radio. Other tricks he pulled including seating audience members who can actually walk (albeit with minimal aid) in wheelchairs, giving the illusion that he can make wheelchair bound individuals walk again. These are simple cons, but Christians' credulity, as demonstrated by Samuel in referencing the powers of televangelists, predisposes them to simply believe in such claims of miracles unsceptically and indiscriminately. Samuel asked at some point during the debate: How much evidence would be enough? And my answer is: definitely waaay more than what Samuel considers to be enough.

  • Jesus appeared to Paul in a blinding flash of light and he allowed Doubting Thomas to feel his wounds in order to prove to them he is God, so why can't don't we modern sceptics get the same evidence from Jesus? Samuel said that even if Jesus appears to us, we would not be able to see him because of The Fall™.

    It was a spectacular act of Samuel shooting himself in the foot and demonstrates how muddled his internal logic is regarding Biblical non-explanations. Both Paul and Thomas were "fallen" too. They too are mortals on Earth who lived long after mankind's alleged fall from grace. So were Moses, Abraham, Lot and all the Old Testament prophets who had dealings with God or his agents.

  • If you pray and it changes God's mind, then he is not omniscient. If you can't change God's mind, then why bother with intercessory prayers? Samuel said you shouldn't ask for stuff when you pray but instead say "God, let your will be done."

    Here is a further example of Samuel's incoherent and inconsistent faith. One moment, he said you shouldn't ask God to do things for you in your prayer but when Willie asked if he would pray to God to save his loved ones, he suddenly said he would. Also, to dispute Samuel's initial point using the Bible, Matthew 22:21 had Jesus saying, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." Jesus said you can totally ask for any stuff ("all things") and you shall get it ("ye shall receive") so long as you have faith ("believing"). However, that itself is its own little problem and you can read more about it here in this short piece titled: The Problem with Matthew 22:21.

  • Why choose Christianity and not other faith? How vigorously have you sought out other faiths? Samuel said Christianity is truer than the other religions, and that came from him pursuing a Masters in Comparative Theology.

    From Seminari Theoloji Malaysia, an interdenominational Protestant seminary. Yeah, those guys are totally going to be impartial. Also, Christianity is truthier than other faiths? Citations please.

Part 6: Samuel's Response to the Cross Examination

Here, Samuel responds to the answers given by Willie to his questions and in doing so, he made a few points, which I'll get cracking on,
  •  Atheists have double standards for expecting Christians to shoulder the burden of proof from the Christian God's existence.

    Duh. You claim God exists, you prove it. If I claim an invisible STD fairy is the entity that causes the herpes, and then you'd expect me to prove its existence, wouldn't you? And if you can't prove that the STD fairy doesn't exist, does it mean that claims of its existence automatically has validity?

  • The film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is fact. A girl died from demonic possesion.

    No, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a movie loosely based on Anneliese Michel, who died from malnutrition and dehydration from almost a year of semi-starvation while the rites of exorcism were performed - one or two sessions each week, lasting up to four hours, over about ten months in 1975 and 1976. Her story is actually a cautionary tale against trusting in the supernatural. Here is a list of accounts of more than a thousand human beings harmed (with more being unreported, I'm sure), and in most cases, fatally. And it all happened because people like Samuel gullibly believe in exorcism.

  • Something something something genetic fallacy!

    Listen to what Samuel described as a genetic fallacy that Willie allegedly made. He said (quite unintelligibly) something like this: "You are making a genetic fallacy, just because we are born in a certain place and a certain time, therefore we have no reason to believe in religion. Something is wrong because of the origin; the answer is wrong just because of the way it came forth." I wish he could have been more coherent so I can at least see what he meant by Willie committing the genetic fallacy. If I have to guess, it had something to do with Willie explaining why Samuel is not delusional by society's standards in believing the things he do, citing Samuel's surroundings, his upbringing and his community as the reasons. Willie is not saying that Samuel's beliefs are wrong because his situation is wrong or evil.

  • Christians have to shoulder the burden of proof for God but atheists/agnostics are not shouldering the burden of proof from evolution. Willie is committing the fallacy of special pleading!

    Um, no. Look at the choice of antibiotics that is prescribed to treat you when you get an infection, and the importance of completing the course of medication - that's evolutionary theory applied to the real world. Look at Tiktaalik, a Devonian lobed finned fish evolving into a land-dwelling four-legged creature with adaptations for terrestrial living - you can touch the damn fossil. It's real. There's a wealth of transitional species in the fossil records bridging major groups of living creatures if only you would take your face out of your Bible and look. Can I see Jesus? Nope. Can I touch his crucifixion wounds like Thomas allegedly did? Nope.

  • 90% of the world believes in God. Therefore we are not delusional and there's something to it.

    Since he likes bringing up logical fallacies, I'll do one: Samuel is committing the argumentum ad populum, or the argument from popularity. Just because lots of people believe in something doesn't say anything about whether it is true or not. There was a time that most, if not all, people in the world believed that the sun goes around the Earth. So yes, most people in the world can be wrong about something.

Part 7: Willie's Response to the Cross Examination

Part 8: Summary from Samuel Nesan

Part 9: Summary from Willie Poh

Part 10: Questions and Answers with the Audience

I was the representative from the godless team who, with the cooperation of a bloke from the other side, selected the questions that I felt would be pertinent to the debate, bring up points not explored by the speakers. I discarded those which are blatantly trying to make a point and those that resembles more like a novella in length than a tweet. Here's where I have culled a selection of queires to comment on which I feel were not satisfactorily addressed,
  • If humans are created in the image of God, why are there congenital deformities?

    This one was obviously written by a certain six-fingered atheist musician I know in the audience (he has pre-axial polydactyly, to be exact) and he told me that to date, no believer could answer it satisfactorily. Samuel fell back on his personal go-to non-answer for everything that's wrong in the world today: The Fall™. I have personally scoured the Bible to look for the Christian answer to this question and I have not found any. What I did find however, was Leviticus 21:16-21 which says, "The Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron: 'For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord." What this tells me is that the Christian God that Samuel worships is a discriminatory asshole (Jesus notwithstanding) who tells handicapped, deformed, and little people to not touch his food. So, I am always amused when people pray to the Christian God to help people with these conditions.

  • What scientific literature have you (Samuel) read on evolution and can you explain it satisfactorily what the theory says to demonstrate your understanding?

    Samuel's answer here truly demonstrates how he really have no idea what he's objecting to. You can see here that he admitted how he had not even finish reading Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which is 150 years behind time on the current understanding of evolution. He also did not take up the challenge of explaining or defining the theory to display his understanding. So, the reason why he kept parroting the fact that there's no satisfactory evidence to support biological evolution is simple: he simply did not bother to read about the evidence.

  • Why do you (Samuel) have no problem believing in microevolution over short periods of time but balks at the thought of macroevolution in geological (read: massively long) timescale?

    Sam went into how we can't explain life came from non-life again, further cementing the obvious: he has no idea what evolution is. Evolutionary biology, as conceived by Darwin and understood by scientists today, is the explanation for the diversity of life, not its origin. The principles driving microevolution and macroevolution is identical - both operates via natural selection where environmental pressures dictates what genes would best help an organism survive and pass it on to its progeny. To say you believe in one and not the other is like saying "I believe that a bus would arrive at its next stop in 10 minutes but I don't believe it can reach the next city is 10 hours." And to answer Samuel's quibble that there is no clear definition of biological evolution, Biology by Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes defined it as "any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next." It is elegant but non-scientists may find it cryptic. In fact, Darwin himself would not immediately understand it as he never knew about DNA or what "allelles" are.

    Douglas J. Futuyama had a longer definition and he describes evolution as "change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions."

  • I know about microevolution but DNA can only decrease in information, but wouldn't a monkey evolving into a human needs an increase in the complexity of its DNA?

    This one clearly came from a Christian - describing human evolution as monkey-to-human instead of saying we came from a-common-ancestor-which-gave-rise-to-both-humans-and-monkeys was a dead giveaway. Modern monkeys are our genetic cousins, and you wouldn't say you descended from a cousin, would you? It also made two unsupported assumptions (a) DNA can only lose information, not gain and (b) a human is more complex compared to a monkey.

    I'll tackle the second one first. The idea of "higher" or "more-evolved" lifeforms is tricky to quantify. The marbled lungfish has 133 billion base pairs in its genome. Paris japonica (a flowering plant) has a genetic code that is 150 billion base pairs long. A single-celled freshwater amoeboid, Polychaos dubium, has a documented 670 billion base pairs in its DNA. Humans? We have a paltry 3 billion base pairs. The point I am trying to make is that "complexity" is irrelevant to the survival or evolutionary fitness of an organism. It's how well-adapted that organism is to its environment.

    The first assumption is plain wrong. I'll illustrate with one simple, relatable example: the dog, or as I like to call it, the Canis lupus familiaris. It's Latin name informs you that it is a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and indeed, dogs can still interbreed with wild wolves. There is an estimated 150 to 600 breeds of dogs worldwide with vast diversity in morphology from Great Danes to Chihuahuas to French Bulldogs, all of which were bred from the plain vanilla gray wolf stock. This is a clear demonstration that information (in this case, body shapes, colours, fur-length, etc) within DNA codes can be increased. If that's not what you meant by information, then please define it.

  • Why is evolution reasonable when it causes racism i.e. white men killing aborigines?

    The person who posed this question is the same person who posed the above, and it demonstrated the same sloppy thinking style. I bring this up because I was dissatisfied with Willie's answer and wishes to smack him in the face with a panda for missing the obvious. On the Origin of Species, Darwin's book, was published in 1859. Is the questioner saying that racism did not exist until the mid-nineteenth century?

    Aside from plain crazy talk, the questioner is also committing an appeal to consequences, a blatant logical fallacy, in that he or she supposes that the consequence triggered by any fact or claim has any bearing on its truth value. When someone falls from a skyscraper to his or her destiny as a red stain on the streets below, does it mean that the laws of gravity is "unreasonable"? Passages from the Bible were historically used to justify slavery and racism, does it mean that... oh wait, the Bible actually go into specifics on how to buy slaves, how to bequeath slaves to your heirs, and how you shouldn't be punished if your slave didn't die immediately from your beatings. Unlike the theory of evolution, which makes no statement of what races are more primitive or less deserving of rights, the Bible openly tells you the etiquette of being a slave and a slave-owner, with not a single passage condemning the practice of slavery.

  • Do you believe in free will? Doesn't the omniscience of God negates free will?

    I have nothing to add to this. I just want to bring this up because Samuel plain didn't understand the intent of the question and Yoshua the moderator (he himself a Christian), outright told Samuel that. You'd notice that there's no moderator from the atheist side and while we requested that an atheist representative (yours truly), be inserted into the question selection process for the Q&A round, we had opted not to stick a someone sympathetic to our worldview in the moderator's seat. It's win-win. Either the Christian moderator is completely impartial (good), or is biased towards the Christian side (good, because it would make us look like we were being unfairly treated).

  • Can morality exists without God?

    Willie answered this ably. I would add that other than the obvious fact that no one (to my knowledge) in the atheist community is going around robbing, raping and killing just because they don't believe in God. Morality is also found in animals and one of the most dramatic examples I've found is an experiment by Masserman et al with rhesus monkeys where he rigged up a food dispensing mechanism for them that, when operated, also delivers an electric shock to fellow monkey. They found that most rhesus monkeys would rather starve than reap benefits from the suffering of another member of its species. No god required, unless you think the monkeys were feverishly reading the Bible when the researchers' backs were turned.

  • Samuel's response to the above question.

    This is what I consider the absolute highlight of the night and thought it deserved its own bullet point. Samuel brought up Adolf Motherfucking Hitler and that automatically aroused laughter from the unbelievers in the audience before he even elaborated on his point. Several atheists (including me), immediately brought their palms to their faces. We do that because we have heard this a million times and we know exactly what's coming. While Samuel did not want to characterise Hitler as an atheist, he also said, "I don't believe he's a believer."

    I do not want to comment on what Hitler really believed or did not believe in, but this is what he said in Mein Kampf: "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." He also said in a 1922 speech, "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter."

    Samuel also tried to link the theory of evolution to Hitler's motivation by saying "Hitler believed in the survival of the fittest" when the Nazis actually banned works on Darwinism. In fact, Hitler said this about atheism in October 1934 in a speech in Berlin: "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."

    Then finally, Samuel trotted out his most egregious point of the night. He said, "Without God, morality is subjective." That is patently untrue. According to the Bible, God is most definitely not an objective source of morality. Take the Ten Commandments, for example. One of them was "Thou shalt not kill." If this is an objective law of morality, it means that under no circumstances are anyone allowed to take another person's life but within the same Biblical book, just some chapters ahead, God commanded the Levites (Exodus 32:27) to "slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour." 3000 people were murdered. In fact, God is so bloodthirsty that he gave Jephthah victory in battle in exchange for him burning his own daughter as an offering to Him (Judges 11:30-31, 11:34-40). And if "Thou shalt not kill" is truly an objective moral law - emphasis on objective - then God is immoral if he breaks it, regardless of context. And boy, just between the Flood which wiped out most of humanity, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Plagues of Egypt, he certainly act as if killing is a-okay if you're a cosmic super-being. Objective morality, my comfy ass. The God of the Bible is the greatest moral relativist I know.

Commentator's Note

And I'm done. The reason why I chose to sit down and write this commentary to accompany the videos is because I want to demonstrate how ineffectual debates are in conveying knowledge and accurate information, and to illustrate the fact that debates are really just popularity contests where two talking heads play he-says-she-says.

Even so, I think Willie did an amazing job explaining the atheistic position and refrained from saying anything untruthful. We knew that this is going to be recorded and it simply wouldn't do for us to perpetuate any falsehoods.

At the end of the night, some Christian youths approached Willie with what he thinks are genuine and sincere questions about science (I said "he thinks" because I wasn't there), and you wouldn't believe how delighted he was. It's the teacher in him, methinks. I also heard unconfirmed reports about a fence-sitter in the audience who fell off the fence into our lawn, but I am naturally sceptical of hearsay. But you already know that.

RELATED POST: My introductory speech before the debate.

READ ALSO: Mr Pepper Lim's write-up, Debating God’s Existence 25.8.12. He was responsible for organising the video recording of the debate.

Part of minor secular history,

k0k s3n w4i


shanaz@RS said...

This was delicious! Thank you KSW for taking the time to dissect the debate. How anyone can still fence-sit is mind-boggling to me..

Willie, you rocked it!
Samuel, thank you for being a picture of a very polite speaker. :)

Teoh Han Hui said...

You put the part 10 video under part 1...

nicoletta said...

well done!

I don't have anything to add or say...except I'm not going to rebut anything.

will these debates be a regular thing?

k0k s3n w4i said...

Shanaz@RS: well, half the analysis was done on site and whispered to le fiancée™ as samuel spoke. the time consuming bit is really looking for good references to support my commentary.

Teo Han Hui: i did, didn't i? fixed it. thanks for the heads up, man.

nicoletta: we hope that there is going to be a series of debates but that's still in the planning stage. do point out to me if willie (or i) made any errors.

nicoletta said...

I was unable to play any of the videos so I didn't hear any of Willie's answers. While my knowledge on evolution is a little faded, sounds like you were spot on most of the time. as for that racism thing, people (especially white Europeans) have pretty much used all systems of thought to justify racism. From religion to scientific racism (craniometry etc. which is pretty much pseudoscience).

k0k s3n w4i said...

nicoletta: willie was electric. you should totally check him out as soon as you can access the videos.

nude0007 said...

Thuis was fantastic. All arguments were very eloquently put. As an American in Mississippi, I can really appreciate the problems you are having. I take it Malaysia is mostly christian? It is sad to see how pervasive and far reaching missionary efforts were. Keep up the good work, guys!

nicoletta said...

nude0007: Islam is the official religion in Malaysia. But yes, Christianity and missionaries have all been tools of European colonialism and cultural imperialism, the effects of which last until today.

However, it's important to note that in this country (and many others) the religious people have privileges over non-religious people. Most of the main religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism etc.)are recognised to a certain degree here. But the non-religious community is more or less marginalised or ignored (sometimes vilified) by the state and society.

Linggi said...

Evolution explains the creation of life from non-living molecules with the combination of energy such as lighting in a gradual and random way. I believe in this too, as a Christian. I also know that natural selection occurs. But the point is that we cannot explain the creation of non-life itself such as the existence of different matters and molecules. It is also illogical to assume that these non-life develop to have instinctive, universal morality which is an intangible substance. The existence of morality in monkeys does not prove that morality can exist without God. In fact, this existence simply proves that God exist and is the creator of life so that even monkeys that do not read the Bible have this behavior!/V

Linggi said...

Since Atheist loves to use the "until proven otherwise" argument, I can also argue that this is a matter of perspective. If you tell me that the tooth fairy and Santa Claus exist, I choose to believe in them. I am not stupid and illogical, I believe in them because I accept them as a logical explanation for things that I cannot explain UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE. The Atheist cannot disapprove God with substantial prove, and neither could the Christians prove, with convincing evidence that God exist. I choose to believe in the later because of things that I cannot explain alongside with about 90% of the population. The ancient belief that Earth was the center of the Universe was universally believed because it was the closest explanation to the truth. Nobody could prove it otherwise at that time because of the limitations of technology but it was a more systematic belief than say, believing that the Universe does not exist. Unless the Atheist or Science can come out with a better theory of the creation of non-living matter that has nothing to do with the evolution of living things, the most logical explanation so far, in the 21st century was that God has something to do with these unless proven otherwise./VL

Anonymous said...

nicoletta: True enough that, or more likely, the irreligious weren't given much of a choice.

I myself am a Malay, born and raised by conservative and very faithful muslims. They had even sent me to a couple of religious school when I was younger. However, I have a very inquisitive mind, the need to know the why of everything and religion doesn't provide that for me, not anymore.

While technically muslims(according to my identification card and the national constitution) I am indeed practically an atheist who adhered to the ideas of Scientology. But try saying that to my parent's face or my relatives or any of pro-Islamists, you can bet your ass, I'll be ridiculed, alienated and used as some symbol of boogeyman to scare the younger relatives.

This country of ours is going down the drain I think, what's with the amount of religious bigots occupying the seats in the parliament, which is why I think it would do this nation good to steer clear from becoming a religious state and becoming a true secular state. Now I have nothing against the theists in general and I respect their wishes to stand by their beliefs but once you shoved your beliefs up my face, you better be ready to come up with comprehensible arguments followed by empirical and tangible evidence in the existence of this supreme deity.

k0k s3n w4i said...

nude0007: malaysia has a major captive population of muslims - captive because they are unable to leave islam without a great deal of trouble. we debated christians because we don't want to be arrested.

chaoz77: you are a scientologist? you mean you are an adherent of the system of crazy beliefs that tom cruise and john travolta believe in?

k0k s3n w4i said...

Linggi: "It is also illogical to assume that these non-life develop to have instinctive, universal morality which is an intangible substance."
i did not claim that their morality is universal. my point is that there is no such thing as objective morality (including and especially the god of the bible).

"The existence of morality in monkeys does not prove that morality can exist without God."
no one claims that. my argument is that morality can exist and can be explained through the evolutionary history of social animals - all without invoking god. when laplace presented his model of the solar system to napoleon, the emperor asked: where is god? laplace told him that it worked very well without god.

"In fact, this existence simply proves that God exist and is the creator of life so that even monkeys that do not read the Bible have this behavior!"
no it doesn't. this proves the existence of magical fairies that every sentient creature is born with and these fairies function as their conscience and moral compass. people do bad things when their fairies goes on vacation to ecuador. what a stupid argument.

"Since Atheist loves to use the "until proven otherwise" argument, I can also argue that this is a matter of perspective."
it is not an argument. this is simply how anyone should logically go about investigating any claim. if you assume the existence of something, how then do you find evidence for the nonexistence of anything? the reason we assume that something doesn't exist until we find positive evidence of its existence is not a matter of perspective. it is pragmatic. and you are not being internally consistent either because you don't believe in the existence of other things as well like fairies, space-faring whales and the boogeyman which doesn't have evidence of their nonexistence either (whatever that is). besides, the bible talked about a global flood where seven of every "clean" animal and two of every "unclean" animal was taken on board the ark to be saved. there is not geological evidence for this cataclysmic event. therefore, it is proven that the bible is not historically accurate and should have all its claims be disputed.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Linggi: "The ancient belief that Earth was the center of the Universe was universally believed because it was the closest explanation to the truth. Nobody could prove it otherwise at that time because of the limitations of technology but it was a more systematic belief than say, believing that the Universe does not exist."
that's absurd. no one is claiming that the universe doesn't exist just because we can't answer if earth is at its centre back then. the existence of the universe wasn't disputed. your analogy is broken.

"Unless the Atheist or Science can come out with a better theory of the creation of non-living matter that has nothing to do with the evolution of living things, the most logical explanation so far, in the 21st century was that God has something to do with these unless proven otherwise."
like willie said, the right answer to any question which you can't answer is "i don't know" and not "goddidit". god explains nothing. where did god came from then? you merely muddy the water and obstruct real scientists from finding out the real answer, much like how the church had always obstructed the march of science. your ilk treated heliocentricism as heresy in the past and now your brethren opposes evolution. but science always come out on top because we admit that we do not know when we don't and refuse to make our ignorance a thing of pride.

"the most logical explanation so far, in the 21st century was that God has something to do with these unless proven otherwise."
hahahahahahahahaha. a magic guy created everything, banished humanity from his garden because they ate a fruit after being duped by a talking snake, flooded the world, freec a specific bunch of these creatures from slavery, impregnated a virgin amongst them in order to get born and killed in order to forgive everyone... this is what you think as the most logical explanation for the existence of everything? and then you proceed to dedicate your life to this explanation, pray to this explanation and go to church every sunday to worship this explanation?

nude0007 said...

kOk and fellow atheists, you are all doing a great job. It is unfortunate that such harmful religions as Islam and Christianity managed to spread their poisonous thinking all over the world, but we MUST fight to re-establish reason everywhere. We Americans are facing a Presidential candidate that is insane. He wants to enact policies that will destroy our nation in the name of religion. I am so sorry that it is illegal to fight Islam in your country, but that is one of the big problems with Islam, it doesn't recognize any law but Shariah. It is a plague even worse than christianity. I hope you can post this. Wish there was something I could do to help you guys. Know that you are not alone. We value each and every one of you.

nude0007 said...

oh, and for chaoz77, scientology is not compatible with atheism or science. it is as bad as Islam and christianity. There are many sites explaining the lies and problems with it. Here is a good one:

~YM~ said...

Religion is a form of mass delusion. So you can't change anything. It's like trying to reason out with a schizophrenic patient without the meds.:P

One of my psy lecturer(A christian) once said himself, the theme of delusion with the worst prognosis are namely two: sex and religion.