What if God was one of us? Thoughts on Eric’s criticism of the ESL Final motion.

doorNederlandse Debatbond

What if God was one of us? Thoughts on Eric’s criticism of the ESL Final motion.

Disclaimer: This article reflects my (Manos Moschopoulos’) own personal point of view, which does not necessarily reflect the opinion of anyone else involved with the Adjudication core or Organizing Committee of Belgrade EUDC 2012.

Last October I found myself in the company of Adriaan Andringa, Steven Nolan, Isa Loewe and Danique van Koppenhagen in the adjudication core of the UCU Open. While we were throwing motion ideas around, Danique offered one that struck me as odd, out-there, crazy, metaphysical, you name it. But I very much liked it. And so did the rest, and our final was Even if scientifically possible, THBT human life should not extend over 100 years.

The youngest (by a mile) member of our CA team offered a motion that, by Eric’s analysis, would be called a disgrace – or, if we accept the bad humour in which the word disgrace was used, a motion either too hard or not worthy of an ESL final. The fact that that member was also Dutch (and the tournament was in the Netherlands) sort of proves the point that these motions are not extremely foreign to Eric’s home circuit.

For the record, that final was a very good round and was eventually won by two prominent members of the ESL circuit: Jens Fischer and Anne Valkering in second opposition, while Sam Block’s Prime Minister speech in that round is still seven of the best minutes of debating anyone in that room has seen live.

But the point of this article is to deal with Eric’s complaints against the ESL final motion for this year’s Euros. For that, I’ll discuss religious arguments as a valid (and necessary) knowledge area for debaters, then go on to God’s existence as a perfectly balanced debate, then talk about its selection as a motion for the ESL final. Take a deep breath and here we go:

Religion as a knowledge area
Europe’s political discourse is quite loaded with religious debates and the strong presence of the various Christian denominations that in many cases have a direct impact on the voting patterns of individuals as well as the integration of non-Christians in European societies. It is also a key factor in the debate over Turkish EU accession, while the Balkans have seen religion tear the region apart and lead to large-scale conflicts that have left millions grieving and displaced.

It isn’t really true that the Netherlands (or any place in Europe) are devoid of religious people that are often quite fanatic about their beliefs, quite the opposite – the country’s ‘bible belt‘ pops up on every cartographic attempt to visualize what sort of names parents give their babies, the country was set up on the basis of an uprising against a denomination the locals deemed was not their own and, today, the fact that well educated people turn around and dismiss those arguments as ‘non-intuitive’ raises an alarming point: that we as a community seem to be unable to comprehend and engage with significant parts of our society that eventually will go out and vote for the only people that seem to care about them. Which also happen to be the sort of people that we don’t like.

A ‘well-rounded’ individual, which is what we demand our speakers to be, should be able therefore to understand what is at the centre of these arguments, which is nothing else than the belief that a lot of individuals have in the existence of God. Understanding why millions of people believe in something that we may find unrealistic demands that we know why they do so – eventually that is the only way that we can try and sway them towards adhering and supporting our own secular values which, sometimes, have their own semi-religious and certainly dogmatic element in supporting things like the universal freedom of people to say whatever, act in whichever way they please, sleep with whoever they wish and not be bound by other people’s set of beliefs.

God’s existence as a debate
Which brings us to the assessment of the motion as such. Eric claims the burden of proof in this debate on the proposition side is disproportional. I tend to disagree: I think that there is a wide range of arguments that point towards the existence of a superior power creating the world and most of those arguments are quite rational. I will happily concede that there is no proof beyond any reasonable doubt that God (or whatever you want to call your superior being) exists – but really, that is not our job out there. As Arielle Dundas brilliantly put it on my Facebook wall yesterday, it’s all about being the most persuasive team in the room.

Given that I’m not religious myself, I can understand why someone would think that “hey, that doesn’t prove there is a God” is a legitimate opposition line – I’ve used that against my family members on a number of occasions. What the opposition in this debate should be arguing is that there is sufficient proof to argue that God does not exist, which is closer to the status quo: it is the assumption upon which most (if not all) education systems in Europe strive to operate in.

No education system though would turn around and teach its pupils that “all of that is rubbish, God doesn’t really exist”. The good reason for that being, of course, that we really don’t know whether she does or doesn’t exist. The point eventually is that no-one can prove either beyond all reasonable doubt. Also, we can’t simply dismiss the most central ideology of millions of people across our continent by claiming their viewpoint is impossible to argue.
One of the better arguments against the motion however doesn’t come from Eric, but surfaced somewhere else on Facebook: that eventually all arguments about whether or not God exists as such exist in a parallel and rarely clash with each other. However, if we take a look at, for instance, debates regarding taxation and social welfare, they stem from two very incompatible theories (capitalism and socialism) which, by definition, are mutually exclusive. However, we do expect debaters to draw logical links from those theories and try to bring arguments that will persuade a seemingly neutral observer of their truth. You can pretty much do that in a debate that puts creationism on one side and natural selection on the other, which THBT God exists does and which THW not allow Intelligent Design to be included in the school science curriculum (round 6 at Worlds 2006) does by proxy.

Also, any sort of claim that the motion is unclear or hard to define is rather unfair as well – the best way to set it up is also the simplest: “something created all of this and we’ll call it God and tell you it exists”.

God in an ESL final
So we come to what I think is the most contentious of areas in Eric’s claims. Had this motion been set for the Open Break final, would we have had this reaction? Possibly not, given that Eric seems to be making the point that ESL speakers are unprepared (or even unfit) to have metaphysical debates.

If we look back onto what the usual complaints of the members of the ESL community have been, they were the fact that they were treated as lesser debaters by being handed, allegedly, worse motions and less experienced adjudication panels in their break rooms and elimination rounds. So here we are in 2011 when suddenly we get this claim that this motion is ‘too British for us’ – something Eric explicitly states when he says that such a debate is only part of the British debating culture. A blatant contradiction of course, given that Britain is a very secular place, so anything that links debating cultures and the institutionalization of secular values in society just goes down the drain.

It is true that continental tournaments often do not set this type of motions, but they do. The International Debate Academy in Slovenia, possibly the best-attended international BP training week I know of, ran a motion about outer space and trying to find aliens at least once, while first contact has also been debated quite frequently on the continent.

Making an argument that metaphysical debates are not well suited for the British Parliamentary format (the way Daniel Schut brilliantly makes in his own reaction to the motion) is one thing, however claiming that the ESL community is not ready for them begs the question: is our language category defined by our language barrier or by some sort of wall erected between the IONA and continental circuits which inhibits our ability to argue anything that isn’t linked to a policy or, at least, a very real and quantifiable consequence?

If the community accepts these motions as legitimate then we should prepare our teams for them. That also includes our ability to handle motions that are more open than usual, such as THBT democracy has failed that featured in this year’s Athens Open final. That should be the real response – not blasting an Adjudication core for setting a debate that we think is out of our comfort zone.

But on a further note, saying that we prepare for a specific type of motions that we expect alarms me: are we training our speakers to be good debaters or are we just training them to win a particular competition? In my view, we should be doing both. Speaking from the perspective of someone who lives and works in an area where debating activities are often linked to wider social goals, I see a lot of harms in telling our debaters that it’s all about coming up with three add-water-and-stir arguments that will win you most debates rather than trying to expand their knowledge base and their ability to argue about a wider set of motions.

There is also a claim that says that being in an ESL final adds extra pressure to the teams involved, thus making it harder for them to debate any given motion. However, last year I was one of the finalists that produced a pretty messy debate in the ESL final at a motion that was very down-to-earth or, as we might call it, ‘real-life’ and tangible. Most finals of competitions are not the best debates of the competition and doesn’t necessarily prove the motion set for them was bad.

Therefore, to reach a conclusion, I don’t think that the criticism of this adjudication core is either fair or justified. The motion is quite good, it can lead to a brilliant debate – however, the fact is that this year it did not. Therefore, we can take a sober look at the outcome and think about what approach we think continental debate training (and motion-setting) should look like and engage with what is a much more important debate to be had: whether metaphysics should be part of our British Parliamentary culture generally or not.

In so far as today it is, this was a proper motion and, if anything, prove that the Adjudication core believed that ESL speakers are just as capable as natives to engage with such a motion. If we go around and argue that we aren’t, we’re practically shooting ourselves in the foot and claiming that we are ‘lesser’ debaters than the others. Which we clearly (and thankfully) aren’t.

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54 Reacties tot nu toe

LarsGeplaatst op12:28 pm - aug 18, 2011

Okay. So you’re basically saying that this crazy motion actually is a good motion, because another crazy motion ended up in a very good debate. The very debate you’re citing, however, involves the WUDC 2008 best speaker in opening government giving “seven of the best minutes of debating anyone in that room has seen alive”, yet still being defeated by an apparently less impressive closing opposition, consisting of two rusty debaters that hadn’t actively debated in a while and never have been among even the best 100 speakers of any Worlds competition. And you somehow believe that this is solid proof of the fact that the other crazy motion was a good one. Right. Another conclusion could be that crazy motions generally screw over opening government teams, and provide closing opposition teams with an incredible advantage.

This entire discussion basically boils down to one simple question: what constitutes a good motion? You seem to put a lot of emphasis on two criteria: (a) can it lead to an interesting debate; and (b) is it possible to think of good arguments in favour of the motion.

But those criteria should be secondary considerations at best. They ignore the primary criterion of any good motion: is it a FAIR one? In your lengthy article, you only speak of fairness in relation to the adjudication team. But this discussion shouldn’t be about what is fair to some random adjudicators: it should be about what is fair to debaters.

Fairness isn’t decided by the question if it’s possible to think of arguments in favour of a motion – it’s all about the question whether it’s roughly equally difficult for proponents and opponents to think of persuasive arguments. It’s not about the question if you can think of good arguments about 150 hours after the final – it’s about the question if it’s equally difficult for proponents and opponents to think of persuasive arguments in less than 15 minutes after hearing the motion.

Let’s not get distracted by side issues and instead focus on the only one that counts: fairness to the debaters. Something this motion clearly did not provide.

Eric StamGeplaatst op1:07 pm - aug 18, 2011

I agree with Lars.

I also wondered in this discussion how many people argued that an opening gov teamline with arguments that prove the existence of God is very intuitive to them – so it must be intuitive for everyone. (Lars’ criterium of: is it possible to come up with good arguments.)

Well, to me it is at least a strong signal when a very strong team like Daniel & Jeroen not even considered such a debate as a serious option, a) because they considered such arguments absolutely unconvincing themselves; b) because they (probably, I’m not sure) are less familiar with them because they – frankly – don’t give a damn; and c) because they were really, really surprised by this motion despite all their years of active competative debating.

I have often disagreed with Lars and other debaters in Holland about the importance of ”fairness” as a criterium. I can see how a strong empahasis on ”fair” motions can easily result in business-as-usual motions all the time. Also, since you can never predict 100% accurately in advance how a motion would work out, there are very good reasons to try out more interesting, out-of-the-box motions. But I agree with them that a fair debate is something that all speakers in a final debate are entitled to.

Since many reasonably good debaters in Holland felt the same, I thought that the points made in my article aren’t as silly as considered by others in the British / IONA debating scene. Especially given the fact that the whole point of my article was nothing more and nothing less than that setting this motion in a final was a bit unlucky.

Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op7:31 pm - aug 18, 2011

If your criteria is fairness to debaters, I fail to see how this motion is problematic.
First of all, apparently (finally?) we can all agree on that there are plenty of things to be said for prop and op, since the criticism now seems to be focused on whether the teams would reasonably have been able to come up with those, and Eric is now saying the setting was “a bit unlucky” instead of “the motion was a disgrace.”
First of all, just because the OG team didn’t run the debate the way it should have been, doesn’t mean it’s suddenly unfair. It’s still possible that other ESL teams would have been able to come up with those arguments, so that never proves your point. The response is then that it might not be intuitive to all of us and therefore be unfair, and that’s least to say disputable.
Euros is an international competition where people from many countries participate. Some debaters have enormous difficulties running debates about for instance legalizing animated child porn, simply because it is out of their comfort zone and usual topics. Others, maybe debaters who don’t care or don’t know about religion, might have that with a motion such as this. That doesn’t mean the motion is unfair, that simply means that those debaters should read or learn more about it.
But even if you ignore all of this, Manos already pointed out that a bad ESL final doesn’t mean the motion is bad. People are tired, don’t think straight and might not be as concentrated as they would otherwise be.
Unless you somehow come up with fundamental reasons of why this motion is unfair I fail to see how the setting is in any way unlucky.

Manos MoschopoulosGeplaatst op7:53 pm - aug 18, 2011


First of all, by no means did I claim that Anne and Jens were ‘less impressive’ in the UCU Open 2010 final that I refer to. Given that you probably did not watch that debate (or the ESL final in question), I think that you should be more cautious about saying that the motion rendered first prop dead in that round; it did not. Moreover, I think that it is a bit weird that you go on to say that any motion that sees Sam Block beaten by a bunch of ESL speakers is essentially a bad motion. 🙂

Regarding your main point, which is fairness, I think that yes, in 15 minutes the top 8 ESL speakers of the year can and should be able to think of arguments that defend God’s existence. I have spoken about this extensively with a lot of ESL speakers and they seem to think that it is quite a reasonable motion – I still remember Belgrade A smoking outside during the 15 minutes of prep time being gutted that they weren’t in the first prop for this debate. The more fundamental problem we witnessed at this year’s final however was that the opening government did not set the debate up as a debate on the existence of God as such – which feeds in to what I said about how and to what ends we train our debaters in the continental circuit.

It is a hard motion, most certainly not an unfair one though. I’m also quite concerned with the thought that Tel Aviv A, the closing opposition in this round, which also happens to be a team that broke into the main break on a massive 20 points out of 9 rounds, only won this debate because they had a lucky draw. It massively discredits their amazing accomplishment and it is very sad to see it undermined as such.

And a closing thought: despite the fact that a lot of us walked into that room to watch that final with our own personal bias in favour of one team or the other, I think we should finally check those at the door and have this discussion without those in mind.


It is easy to judge a motion for a particular out-round after it was set and the debate has been concluded. In the sense that the ESL final wasn’t a brilliant round, yes, the motion as such was an ‘unlucky’ one. Since you can’t predict how a motion will go however, I still stick by my original assessment that any criticism of the adjudication team for the selection of this motion is quite unfair.

Regarding the motion fairness bit now, since when is a debater’s own point of view, or even the ‘what I give a damn about’ question, a measurement of fairness for a motion? I find every argument that runs in favour of pure capitalism absolutely unpersuasive and I find donor siblings of very little interest to my everyday routine, I don’t think however that entitles me to say “oh, I don’t agree with my viewpoint / I don’t give a damn about the topic / therefore, the CA team should go on and change the motion to give me something I feel passionate about.”

Eventually, the one point that you make that is quite true is that the motion was surprising for quite a few people – I was surprised when it was announced as well. While I don’t think that motion setting for finals should be a pursuit of shock and awe, I don’t necessarily think that challenging your finalists with a motion like this is unfair – especially when it is a question (religion) that most people in the world have an opinion on – either in terms of believing in a God (or twelve) or in rejecting every belief system for one reason or the other.

LarsGeplaatst op8:19 pm - aug 18, 2011

Tomas, if you like this motion so much, why don’t you provide us, sceptics, with a good definition and (at least) three persuasive and well-developed arguments. Please, enlighten us! Tell us which arguments you would have brought in case you made it to the final. But don’t use any digital sources or spend more than fifteen minutes preparing your arguments – Daniel and Jeroen couldn’t do so either.

There’s no excuses. Don’t complain that you’re tired, don’t think straight or might not be as concentrated as you otherwise would be. Your preparation time starts NOW. I’m looking forward to your arguments.

Manos MoschopoulosGeplaatst op8:21 pm - aug 18, 2011

Lars, are you seriously arguing that you can’t think of three arguments and a definition yourself?

    LarsGeplaatst op8:40 pm - aug 18, 2011

    That’s irrelevant. I’m not claiming that it’s impossible to come up with arguments supporting this motion. I’m just arguing that a FAIR motion gives roughly equal chances to all teams, which means that it should be just as easy to think of arguments in favour as against the motion.

    I’m pretty sure, though, that Tomas, who believes this is a fair motion, is incapable of thinking of three persuasive and well-developed arguments without any digital sources and within fifteen minutes. But let’s hope he proves me wrong. I would be surprised.

      Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op8:58 pm - aug 18, 2011

      Why wouldn’t there be equal chances to come up with arguments in favour or against this motion Lars?

        LarsGeplaatst op9:06 pm - aug 18, 2011

        Well, I just provided you with a great opportunity to experience that for yourself… What are you waiting for?

        Pok. Pok. Pok pok. Pok.

          Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op9:08 pm - aug 18, 2011

          Hahaha, if that’s the proof you’re waiting on, you best stop debating 🙂

          LarsGeplaatst op9:27 pm - aug 18, 2011

          So what’s your excuse for not being able to think of three persuasive and well-developed arguments? Too difficult after all?

          Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op9:55 pm - aug 18, 2011

          Whether I could or couldn’t is irrelevant to the discussion Lars, because your point is aimed at teams in a debate tournament having equal chances, not one individual. But if you want a discussion about the contents of the debate, we can continue below ;-), I see Adrian has already started

          LarsGeplaatst op9:55 pm - aug 18, 2011

          Okay, perhaps this was too difficult a challenge for you. My mistake — let’s make it easier for you. Why don’t you try to come up with TWO persuasive and well-developed arguments instead?

          Surely this should be a piece of cake for you.

          Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op9:59 pm - aug 18, 2011

          Haha, you’ve lost your touch Lars, that trick is so 1999! 🙂

          LarsGeplaatst op10:04 pm - aug 18, 2011

          Meanwhile you still failed miserably in providing us with even ONE persuasive and well-developed argument…

          Pok. Pok. Pok pok. Pok.

          Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op10:13 pm - aug 18, 2011

          I’m not really surprised you need me to think of any argument in favour! You should try that in debates as well, ‘Pok. Pok. Pok. Pok. Pok,’ judges love it.

          DanielschutGeplaatst op12:19 pm - aug 19, 2011

          Actually, Lars’ question is a good one. I’m not sure how and if it relates to my viewpoint about metaphysics in debating (yet), but usually, if you ask debaters for an argument in favour or against, they can at least within 10 seconds give an outline of what a good argument would be. That there’s no debater willing to do that, does show Lars is onto something.

          Eric StamGeplaatst op12:38 pm - aug 19, 2011

          Lars is very persistent indeed. But this is what I meant by saying the prop case really isn’t intuitive for some reasonably good debaters.

          However, the only responses for so far have been that it is intuitive, or should be intuitive. Manos is doing it by giving the Dutch some lessons about Dutch society and the bible belt. He probably is less aware of the fact that The Netherlands is a very secularized county in another respect: there is hardly a public-political debate about the existence of God. It’s a very privatized manner, and some of us – let’s call them ”fundamentalistic agnostics” – really give very little thought to the topic. And I am quite disturbed that somehow it seems to be necessary to give much thought to the topic in order to be a ”well-rounded” individual worthy of making it to a final in a parliamentary debating tournament.

          Especially when parliamentary debating turns more and more into a spoken philosophy essay contest rather than a game where persuasiveness is central.

          Tomas BeerthuisGeplaatst op2:10 pm - aug 19, 2011

          I think no debater is willing to play a Lars-game, but I think any debater would be perfectly willing to discuss the contents of the debate. I think anyone could intuitively come up with reasons why God would exist. Ontological, cosmological, virtues and morals that humans have, teleological, instrinsic belief, etc.
          @Eric: you might have a point. I do think that for lots of people it really is intuitive, but maybe Dutch debaters are just more secular. I don’t think that’s a reason not to run the motion, but a reason for Dutch debaters to learn more about that topic. What I said earlier, for some groups other topics might be harder, and there are always advantages and disadvantages depending on where you’re from and what you know or study. Erasmus debaters are incredible at economic motions, others might not be.

          Eric StamGeplaatst op2:48 pm - aug 19, 2011

          Tomas, then please bear in mind that my contribution to this debate has been a modest one. I have not advocated the position of Daniel Schut about banning metaphysics entirely – although I tend to agree with him. But if people want to do more motions like this, that’s fine.

          I have merely pointed out how I was quite surprised about this motion – to say the least. It might be true that Erasmus debaters are incredible at economic motions, like others are very good in international relations. Like it is also true that these topics are debated a lot. The topic of God and His existence, has not been debated for a long time. Not even in ’95 when Oxford A demanded a different topic.

          LarsGeplaatst op3:31 pm - aug 19, 2011

          Okay, this is getting pathetic. By now, MORE THAN TEN THOUSAND WORDS (!!!) have been written on this blog alone about the motion, yet we’re still anxiously awaiting the first person to present us with even ONE persuasive and well-developed argument in favour of the motion.


Eric StamGeplaatst op8:38 pm - aug 18, 2011


Please, come on, any more remarks about me saying the motion was a disgrace is simply silly. Because I didn’t claim that in the article, because I have distanced myself from that statement in the particular facebook-group and since I made a very clear point of clarification on Manos’ wall, and his link to the Facebook-group was the biggest promotion for it since I invited less than ten people.

But I guess the debating world isn’t ready yet for the concept of ”shock blog” or ”shock group” despite the fact that most people can rightfully consider themselves as experts in code and linguistics. Apperently, even some of the most intelligent people in Europe cannot understand irony unless it is used in combination with warning signs saying “THIS IS A JOKE”. I said it to Manos, and now I say it to you: if you feel that distancing yourself from the creator somehow is better for your own reputation, please do so. Political correctness will bring you far in life. However, to anyone who says: ”what a counter productive way of starting off a conversation!” I have only one thing in response: check the amount of visitors on the site, check the amount of fruitfull discussion after some people felt the need to clearly express how disgraceful it is to mention the word disgrace.


You’re right about one thing: I cannot prove my position. However, I can only use my judgement or gutfeeling in determining whether using this particular motion would work out well in a prelimary round. Taking into consideration also statistics about prop/opp odds of winning the debate. That’s all I have. And based on that judgement or gutfeeling, I wouldn’t have set it. Your position basically means that you can never critize a motion used in an outround because there are no statistics to back up your suspicions.

    Manos MoschopoulosGeplaatst op8:53 pm - aug 18, 2011

    Nope Eric, all I’m saying is that when you criticize a motion, you should be able to prove your position. There are very clear guidelines on what a bad motion is – I can see how for instance THBT New Zealand should become part of Australia again would be a bad pick for an ESL final at Euros, or how THW assassinate Vladimir Putin was unfair on the Russian teams (and others) – I still fail to see one good reason why this is a bad motion, apart from the (very legitimate) concerns about the presence of metaphysics in British Parliamentary debating.

      Eric StamGeplaatst op8:59 pm - aug 18, 2011


      How interesting. Strangely enough, however, guidelines alone are not sufficient enough to evaluate a motion. One reason for this is that they are ambiguous. Another is that evaluating the quality of a motion beforehand is difficult. You seem to agree with that. That’s why we sometimes also do an effort to evaluate motions afterwards, for instance, by using statistics. At least, in Holland we do, and Daniel Schut introduced it at the Amsterdam Open a couple of years ago.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op9:42 pm - aug 18, 2011

I am afraid agree with Lars and little substantive arguments have been brought why it is a fair motion. Most argue that it is an interesting question for which arguments exist. But this is completely besides the point.

First, for every motion ‘arguments exist.’ Arguments exist for the motion `THB the pythagorean theorem is false,` but unless one is extremely cynical, the truth or plausibility of a motion should influence how easy it is to debate for.

Second, most if not all of the most interesting questions and debates are unfit for parliamentary debate as we practice it. Not because they are uninteresting, but because:
i. The terms are not clear enough. (THB consciousness is a recursive phenomenon.)
ii. The distribution of Intuitions and assumptions over the population are very biased to one side. (THB consciousness is an illusion, THB in evolution, THB torturing innocent people is not wrong).
iii. Very specific knowledge is required. (THB the universe consists of strings, THB in the Perfect Bayesian Nash Equilibrium, THB self-organizing criticalities underly brain activity.)
iv. It is too complex for a one-hour debate even if one had the specific knowledge. (THB Fermat’s last theorem is true – it’s true, but not very debatable in an hour, not even among expert number theoreticians.)

A good motion results in a good and fair debate. For a good debate, the topic of a motion should be interesting, clear enough and not too complex. For a reasonably fair debate, a motion should be fair in relation to the common knowledge we use in the debating community. We debate using (more-or-less) common knowledge of (a) what we mean by things and (b) the plausibility of intuitive and factual claims. (Of course, we can challenge commonly held beliefs, but only by referring to the plausibility of other (more) commonly held beliefs.) Hence, a motion should not require too much definitions for 1st prop nor be much harder to argue for at one side or, in BP, arguments should not be too easy (bias to 1st half) nor too hard (bias to 2nd have). This is why (i)-(iv) pose a problem.

Now, the God motion is suffers from all problems (i)-(iv).

Many have, as Lars pointed out, said there are many good arguments, but failed to have given just one. The problem is that all arguments in favor of God´s existence are now considered flawed by most philosophers. Few serious philosophers still think God´s existence can be proven, and even few theologian´s advocate this point of view. Regarding St. Thomas arguments, for instance, many argue that they are meant to show the consistency of belief in a God (harmony between faith and reason) and not to proof God´s existence from scratch. (In Catholic thought, God´s existence is a dogma that does not need proof.) Or take the cosmological argument – this suffers from the problem that if one can posit God as a final cause, one can also posit the universe itself as a final cause. (One of the plausible implications of St. Thomas argument from causality is that if a creator God exists, he must exist outside of causality (and transcend causality, time and place), and debates about things that defy causality make up for a hard debate.) Of course, some ´arguments´ exist, but this is irrelevant as that holds for all motions (see above).

The fact that there are many believers does not mean the motion is a reasonable claim. First, many believers do not believe one can prove God nor do they feel this is necessary. They feel and experience God and feelings and experiences tend to make for bad arguments in a debate. Second, those who do believe they can prove God typically put forward bad rasons which would not work easily in a debate.

The God motion is in away similar to the motion “THB evolution is false.” It is a fascinating debate about a motion many people belief to be true and for which actually interesting philosophical and scientific arguments can be formulated. However, given the common knowledge in our debating community such a motion would be biased towards opp and 2nd half and first prop is very likely to loose.

Well, the burden seems to be for people to show arguments that the set of prop arguments is not much weaker than the set of opp arguments. But a starting point would be for people to show any argument.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op9:50 pm - aug 18, 2011

Sorry for another lengthy post adding to the multiplatform discussion. However, I believe that it really is a very poor motion and do not want people to use the ´disagreement heuristic´:

“Well, some people say it’s a bad motion but others say it’s a good motion – hence it is not a bad motion.”

Daan WellingGeplaatst op1:02 am - aug 19, 2011

Adrian: thanks for your comments: I feel that your criteria have been adequately dealt with on a Facebook post by Shengwu Li (http://www.facebook.com/#!/note.php?note_id=10150280925854806) .

In short:
i. The terms are not clear enough. – “This House Believes that God Exists” do seem, to me, rather clear. You must show why you believe that God exists. I get the feeling that most people understand that a “God” is, at the very least, the creator of the world we perceive as existing around us (in a theist point of view), and if you want to stretch the definition, it would include a being beyond our perception who intervenes in the world. If you want to clench at straws a debate is possible about whether “this House” (i.e. a parliament) should believe in the existence of God, likely turning this into a normative debate about whether believing in God, or even religion is a force of good in this world.

ii. The distribution of assumptions about the motion is biased towards one side – Shengwu Li points out that the judging panel consisted of 3 theists (out of 9 judges). This should therefore not pose a huge problem in this debate. Furthermore, I’ve heard judges coming out of the 9th round (the motion about priests and confession) saying that their decision was very hard, because some took more merit from arguments supposing (the perception of) divine judgment than others. Finally, while I can imagine that most debaters fit the atheistic/agnostic liberal mould, this does not go for the entire population – and it is not OK to not set motions that go against the believes that a large part of the group holds; the sixth-round motion about hacking involved large chunks of Marxist analysis that were suitable for the proposition bench and was considered a fine motion – even by our very liberal Dutch debating circuit, who used a similar motion in the semi-final of the Erasmus BP-tournament.

iii. The motion requires too much specific knowledge. – I think that many young people have pondered the existence of God at the dinner table, have read books touching on the subject or have picked up things about ontology every once in a while. I daresay that more people have read about the existence of God than about feminism ; yet no-one complained about the existence of a feminist motion both in the in-rounds (gender roles) and as the main final.

iv. It is too complex – I think that seven-minute speeches often are not enough to grasp all the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the Arab Spring, the Obama debt deal or, indeed, the psychological links that cause gender roles, the topic of schools and the extent of State action, the possibility of free choice under pre-exesting social norms etc. Yet those seven minutes are often enough to give a strong patchwork of ideas and analysis that make for entertainable and watchable debates, and therefore these debates are set by CA-teams. This motion, which involves a scope of arguments that have been brought out both by opposition and proposition and are found in both heavy tomes of philosophy and popular-science books (as in, literally EVERY Dawkins book ever for the opp-bench) should be watchable and enteraining when done by teams who rank as highly as being the top 8 speakers of continental Europe (out of which 4 once reached the quarterfinals of EUDC, and therefore rank themselves almost as high as “the native speakers”, if you pardon me the divisive use of language here).

On the issue of arguments proving the metaphysical existence of God, I feel that Adrian only made a case against an interventionist God, not against a theistic/deistic God. For instance, he finds it fitting to argue that it´s damaging that people could argue that God and Universe is one – yet this is exactly what a theist such as Spinoza has done! (he equated God with Nature as being the prime substance that connects the world: he also rejected strict causality of seperate experiences as conforming to reality).

The immovable mover/cosmological argument remains a very interesting philosophical construct that, when brought convincingly, can be very persuasive in a debate. Consider this: we see our world in terms of actions, which have drivers. We think that an individual action has a beginning and an end: life and death, a day marked by sunrise and sunset. In equal terms, we consider that our universe has an ending: we now that, through the laws of physics, eventually the universe may freeze down, reach absolute zero and stop reacting, thereby stopping causation and events from happening. If the Universe has a definite end, it should have a beginning: but because every event needs a causation, we would need an infinite amount of beginnings. In light of two logical impossibilities – an infinite amount of beginnings, i.e. no definite beginning, or a logical sell-out in terms of the one action without causation, the theistic God, the second one sounds no less convincing than the first.

Arguments could also be made when accepting that there is a logical fallacy in the above argument. in short, and in doing brutal injustice to 2,000 years of philosophy: we as humans are incapable of interpreting the world: see the logical fallacy that I´ve just written down, and that has been formed from extracting our experiences about the world around us into rules that suppose its logical underpinnings: therefore there must be something that transcends our experiences and transcends reason, and that is God (The alternative is to suggest that we have not yet received cognitive abilities that are powerful enough to reason correctly about the world around us, but that position does not sound more likely to take than a belief in a God’.

But also in terms of a harmony between faith and reason an interesting debate can be had, and this is not a priori problematic for a Government team; is the fact that humans as reasonable creatures all have come up, in a wide variety of places and time, with a God who dictates workings of the world, but also social norms and values, not a testament to a reasonable prove for God?
Two arguments can spring off this line:
One is an argument in the line of irreducable complexity: why have we been given the ability to reason, or why do complex biological structures exist, or indeed, why have four guiding laws of physics arise from a singular experience if it was not someone who designed (or fumbled, if you want to talk about the ignorant watchmaker) Rules?
The other is an argument about the necessity of God: we often see that people do not hold themselves to normative rules in the absence of the guiding strength of religion, faith and the promises it brings us. Yet we also see that people want these rules to be enforced, lived by and accepted, for their own sake and others. People like altruism, like being treated according to the Golden Rule. Does this necessitate a belief in God for these principles, and indeed humanity, to be upheld?

I´m not saying here that these arguments are perfect, and I´m quite happy to concede that all the more accomplished debaters above could refute them. But as the result of a solitary 5 minute brainstorm response I am OK with saying that merit can be held in arguments on the side of proposition.

Eric StamGeplaatst op3:01 am - aug 19, 2011

Ok, thanks, Daan.

Now a response to Lars. Since you’re one of those people who had been ”undecided” on the topic for more than five days, it would be interesting to know whether you believe that first gov had an equal chance in this debate. And please engage with the point that some people – frankly – don’t give a damn about the existence of God. But I’m quite sure this merely illustrates the fact that some people are simply no ”well rounded individuals” and therefore are not worthy of being ESL finalists…

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op7:13 am - aug 19, 2011

Coming to think of it, if one really would like to have a God debate, then one should run the motion:

THB that believing in the existence of a Deistic God is rational.

This is a relevant philosophical and social debate with arguments and intuitions spread quite evenly over both sides. It does not require God proofs on prop side but just arguing believing in God is not irrational, i.e. that there is harmony between faith and reason.

And it is sufficiently specific not to send debaters astray.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op7:16 am - aug 19, 2011

Excuse me: THB that believing in the existence of a THEISTIC God is rational.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op7:52 am - aug 19, 2011

To Daan:

i. Specific. First, it was to many people not clear what debate the jury-panel intended to have due to its unusual nature. You are already mentioning three different debates (and I can come up with some more). Second, you need quite a lot of definitions going on for your God concept and even then it is rather arbitrary. Why should God intervene in the world now? And the relation between a ‘creating entity’ and the ‘moral or meaningful God’ most people believe in is rather strenuous.

ii. As I said, being theist does not mean you think one can proof God. Most theists I know certainly do not think so.

iii. Sure people have thought about God, but not on the philosophical level required for this debate. No single team in the debate came up with come up with philosophically compelling reasons on either side (´You cannot show me God´), which given the excellent quality of the teams should say sufficient. I know many people have thought about string theory and evolutionary dynamics and game theory and real business cycles; most of the non-specialists, however, cannot have a good debate about these issues.

iv. It is too complex in the sense that you cannot reach the relevant assumptions in a (non-scripted) one-hour debate. The motions you mention are truly way simpler, also because we have a much more clearly defined set of common knowledge. Do you imply that the set of motions too complex for a parliamentary debate is empty? – I namely think that’s demonstrably false, i.e. take Fermat’s last theorem.

On to the “proofs for God”
– One need not focus on a specific God concept, and equating God with the universe, for instance, is a valid option. Well, then this motion is meaningless (see point i), since who would question the existence of the universe?
– Problem with immmovable mover/cosmological argument. The fact that the universe has a beginning does not at all imply God, for the simple reason that the beginning of the universe need not be God. (Unless you define it as such, see point i)
– Arguing that arguments with a long 2000 year pedigree does injustice to philosophy. Well, in some areas knowledge progresses. For a long time people thought the world was flat, the earth moved around the sun, there was no explanation for complex life, there was an ether etc. A debate proposing these old flawed ideas would be interesting but `opp biased.´
– Irreducible complexity. For this to work, you need to show that God itself is not irreducibly complex. Otherwise you need to define God as ’the cause of all things we have no explanation for and needs no explanation itself.’ (See point i.) But do you really want to propose that since there are things we don’t understand, God exists? Ad tedium, a concept with the label God is not an explanation.
– Arguments that God is necessary for a moral life is irrelevant to God’s existence.
– A debate about the harmony between faith and reason is an interesting debate (see a post above) but not the debate the CA-team set out.

Yes, these arguments are interesting and one needs argumentation to refute these arguments – the problems is that they are considered flawed by most experts and can simply and compellingly be refuted to an audience of debaters. This makes for a biased debate. So, we are back to Lars challenge, come up with an argument that is either (i) philosophically compelling or (ii) compelling to an audience of debaters (preferebly both).

That a brilliant debater who has given the motion much thought as Sheng wu li is apparently not able to do so should already be proof that it is a bad motion.

Manos MoschopoulosGeplaatst op10:20 am - aug 19, 2011

If you can prop that the belief in the existence of a God is rational, does that not also automatically mean that there are rational arguments that can be used to prop the existence of God as such? (Hint: it does)

    LarsGeplaatst op11:16 am - aug 19, 2011

    No it does not. Blaise Pascal already argued that a belief in the existence of God is rational, because living your life accordingly has everything to gain (heaven), and nothing to lose. The alternative provides no significant gains but might make you go to hell. Now tell me: how is this an argument that can be used to prop the existence of God as such?

    By the way, we’re still waiting for three persuasive and well-developed arguments. Tomas chickened out (“Pok. Pok. Pok pok. Pok.”). So Manos, will you take up the challenge?

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op11:01 am - aug 19, 2011


Short answer: To show (i) it is rational to belief in God is to show that a belief in God is a plausible worldview consistent with reality. To argue for (ii) God´s existence, one needs to show that it is the ONLY plausible worldview consistent with reality. That is a major difference.

Bit longer answer: For (i) you need to argue that we must make some assumptions to reason and act (ontological commitments) and one set of assumptions consistent with reality is that there is a transcendental God with certain properties. For (ii) you need to essentially deny that we need to make any ssumptions and that reality and logic alone forces us to believe in God. Denying we need to make assumptions is philosophically a very extreme position, which is the reason why God-proofs tend to be looked at with great suspicion. A somewhat weaker conditional strategy for (ii) is to show there is a set of assumptions we all hold that (together with our experience) implies God’s existence. Given the little agreement about (foundational) assumptions among people and the fact that God is not blatantly out there (talking in the sky), this is also likely to be an unsuccesful enterprise.

Of course, an interesting argument is whether be agnosticism [or near-certain atheism] is the only rational position if several [many] worldviews are plausible. However, a good case can be made that rational people need not hold the same belief about things they are uncertain of, in particular if that involves ontological commitments.

Danique van KoppenhagenGeplaatst op4:05 pm - aug 19, 2011

Guys, can we leave the namecalling, “tok tok tokking”, and other disrespectful ways of commenting behind? It’s not helping the debate – and seeing that we all describe ourselves as rational beings etc. I say we use rational arguments instead.

So: no tokking. No trolling. No namecalling. Play nice.

Andreas LazarGeplaatst op5:15 pm - aug 19, 2011

Just to make Lars happy, here is, off the top of my head and thus very unpolished, a prop line for this motion:

PM: “Hi. We believe that God exists. By God we mean a being or an entity that created the universe and may have acted within it since then. We have several proofs that lead us to this belief.

1. The universe must have come from somewhere, because we think it is impossible that something can come out of nothing as everything must have a cause, and the Big Bang shows us that the universe hasn’t existed forever. We say the existence of a supreme being that created the universe is the most plausible solution to this conundrum, and we call this being God. Where does God come from? She has existed forever, outside of time and space.

2. If you think of the most ideal possible being, it must also exist because it wouldn’t be ideal if it only existed in your mind, as a being is more ideal when it exists both in the mind and in reality. Therefore, it would be a contradiction if you thought of the most ideal possible being and it didn’t exist, because then you could think of a more ideal possible being. Therefore, this most ideal possible being must exist, and we call it God. The great Bertrand Russell himself said of this argument ‘Great God in Boots – the ontological argument is sound!’

3. The vast majority of humans across history have felt the existence of God, as they have felt the existence of love or hope. Only a tiny majority has experienced neither, but we would not say that because some people have never felt love, it does not exist. Just because some people cannot perceive colour, we do not say colour doesn’t exist. Rather, there is something wrong, an organ missing, if you will, in these people. This organ or sense of God we call sensus divinitatis, or sense of divinity.”

LO: “…”

DPM: “Huh, Opp destroyed all our beautiful proofs of God. Well, no worries, because we say rationality, reason and evidence aren’t the be all and end all of arriving at the truth. They are only a fairly modern way of getting to conclusions, in the end resting on the assumption that A always equals A. But what if A is A today, B tomorrow and cucumber the day after that? And even if A has been A all the time, who says it will still be so in a week? You can’t ultimately prove your logical axioms any better than you can prove religious axioms like the existence of God. So since both have valid applications in the world we live in, why not take both sets of axioms as granted? Therefore, belief in reason is no better or worse than belief in God and can’t be used to dismantle the latter. So our proofs still stand after all, and we win.”

Of course, this is very, very crude and would still have to be fleshed out a lot by a prop team in order to secure a win, if only by adding rhetorical flourishes and a manner of resolute conviction. But I think even these proto-arguments are no worse or less persuasive than many actual winning arguments I have heard at Euros.

    DuncanGeplaatst op12:22 am - aug 22, 2011

    1: It’s a matter of personal preference (though there might be very good reasons not to do it in a debates context) but I prefer the cosmological argument using the (Leibniz) notion of sufficient reason; it just seems more compelling. ‘For anything which might have been otherwise (contingent) there must be some reason external to it, why it is that way and not some other way. That reason itself must be either contingent or necessary. There cannot be an infinite chain of contingencies therefore there must be some entity/reason which carries within itself the modal justification for its own existence.

    Reasons to prefer it; running the causal version of the cosmological argument makes it easier for the opp- team to follow so in the (perhaps unlikely) event they’ve never come across it before it makes it easy for them to see the obvious rejoinder that one way or another you are going to have to arbitrarily draw the line at some point in the causal chain and it seems no more unreasonable to do it at the big bang than at one step earlier. [nb. I have absolutely no wish to discuss the WLC/kalaam variant of the cosmological argument. If anyone reading this happens to endorse it; bully for you]. The PSR (principle of sufficient reason) /is/ subject to the same problem but for some reason ‘God carrying within himself the justification of his own existence’ sounds more compelling as a non-arbitrary distinction from a big-bang event than ‘God is the uncaused causer’ and the whole ‘contingency of the world means the contingency of God and necessitates a meta-God’ response has a (rather counter-intuitive) response in positing that all facts about the world are necessary and God was prompted to choose this set of facts for some non-arbitrary reason, such as their being optimal in some way (if you’ve ever read Candide, this is why Dr Pangloss, channeling Leibniz, believes that this is the best of all possible worlds, Lisbon earthquakes notwithstanding). Also talking about causation creates a more contemporary obstacle in that it has apparently become acceptable for people to assert (see for example Papineau’s ‘Thinking About Consciousness’ that the causal closure of the physical world is a fact of some kind and so you can appeal to this idea as a non-arbitrary reason for limiting causal chains to within-world things such a big bangs rather than deities. Finally, and related to the last point, issues of modality and justification seem to pass more naturally and intuitively from worldly phenomena to supernatural phenomena and abstracta (Gods and numbers) than does talk of causation.

    2: Fair to say Russell changed his mind on that one 😉 I’d be very surprised if four intelligent, educated people interested in argumentation were not one of them familiar with the ontological argument and the standard response to it (the Kantian response that it confuses an a predicate with an existential quantifier). Run it if and only if you have Alvin Plantinga on your judging panel (who according to the Routledge Philosophy Encyclopedia article he wrote on the subject finds Alvin Plantinga’s modal version of the ontological argument compelling (who knew; so far as I’m aware he’s the only one) but otherwise it’s just taking up space in your speech.

    3: Out of laziness I’m just going to quote my response to Wieger’s similar argument on your facebook page as a sort of appendix below. It’s not that the argument is itself unworkable but it requires an additional explanation as to why those who did not ‘feel the love’ never felt it.

    DPM: There is a stronger response along these lines which (and it pains me to say this) comes from Alvin Plantinga. I find the argument obscure and unconvincing but it’s basically a claim that if you deny a divine origin (creationism) for human reasoning this means human reasoning must have evolved and might be imperfect (and as a fan of Dennett I’m happily nodding along at this point) but if rationality might be imperfect the fact that rational arguments can be offered against religious belief isn’t a compelling reason to believe in God, whereas the creationist Christian believes both that there are rational grounds for the belief in God and that human reason is a gift of God and therefore reliable, therefore the choice is between the atheist who admits he may be wrong and the theist who knows he’s right. I’m sure others might be able to render this in a more compelling form; frankly I find the argument insulting in more than one way and so I’ve paid it very little attention. If interested I could try to look you out the original texts, I don’t know them off the top of my head.

    I do have to admit I though, reading the DPM’s speech, that you were being ironic. If you honestly think a winning prop line is to have the first speaker offer arguments and the second speaker to concede that those arguments were logically refuted but then reply ‘but what is logic anyway?’ then you are either a) mistaken or b) a US schools debater. (‘If we didn’t believe in God we’d have had nuclear war; pop win!’)

    I stand by what I said on your page about what I believe the strongest prop line to be, though I’m happy to repeat it here if you’d like. What does puzzle me is if (not in debateland; debateland never seems to care much about whether arguments present are coherent or not. I’ve seen people win finals with moral principles so laughably incompatible I’d potentially fail them if they offered them unapologetically in an essay) whether you could run the kind of Quinean argument I want from necessity alongside some/any variant of the cosmological argument. I am reasonably sure Richard Swinburne would say it was fine to do so, which suggests to me that it wouldn’t be.

    ==Apprendix; response to 3/Wieger========
    [context; the wide acceptance of religious belief provides it with warrant]

    3: Wide acceptance – Sure, and I think this is broadly the direction that prop took in the actual debate, but you need to have a very careful account of what the reason is that some people believe in God and others do not (particularly in the latter case). You need to provide some compelling reason as to why people might not believe in God, despite there being one/the existence of one needing to be posited, otherwise it’s just some strange, implausible, democratic ‘enough people believe it so it is true’ argument.

    So, here is a non-exhaustive list of options (of which the option I was suggesting using was c).

    3a) Some theists I’ve come across claim that in fact everyone does believe in God it’s just that some people are fooling themselves because for some reason, usually an emotional or irrational reason, they wish to pretend to themselves that there isn’t one. I don’t find this particularly persuasive, personally, but your average megachurch attender seems to. More potetically ‘nature herself has imprinted on the mind of man the idea of God’.

    b) You might be able to very carefully insert fideism into the debate, and again I’ve heard this used. Not everyone believes in God because belief in God is a special blessing or requires a special sensitivity or something along those lines. So, for example, there are two ways to react to the finding that religious ideas seem to be provoked by electrical stimulation (due to epilepsy or modern trans-cranial stimulation techniques) of the temporal lobe: the standard atheistic response is to say ‘aha, you see, that explains St Paul, he was just having an epileptic seizure. The standard religious response is to view this as a neural correlate of religious capacity and to feel sorry for Richard Dawkins that he’s evidently lacking the requisite part of the brain required to experience God (Dawkins is, for whatever reason, unresponsible to transcranial stimulation of the appropriate region). ((I’m assuming this is broadly what you’re meaning when you talk of ‘emotional perception)). So you would say ‘look, the fact that this phenomena exists shows that the capacity to have the kind of direct experience of divinity which religious belief requires isn’t universal within humans, so we shouldn’t expect all people to be religious believers but that doesn’t mean those who are aren’t warranted in being so. You’d run into obvious problems if you were running creationism as well (but you wouldn’t be because you aren’t a fool). There’s also the problem of whether these people should be read as mentally ill or having special epistemic access to religious truth. And finally there’s the problem of one man’s temporal lobe seizure revealing to him the Buddha and another revealing to him Allah. I’m inclined to think all fideistic-type arguments fall to this problem of the same grounds being used to justify mutually incompatible belief systems (e.g. Islam and Buddhism) but if someone told me that they personally believed suchandsuch because of their constant experience of divine visions I’d have a hard time not thinking that person was subjectively justified in doing so (if there is such a thing; there’s a good reason I’m not an epistemologist) provided they’re happy to grant that this justification doesn’t translate to inter-subjective contexts.

    3c) You argue that something which everyone (or almost everyone; pesky psychopaths and nihilists notwithstanding) /does/ agree on non-obviously entails the necessity of some sort of deity either 3c1) in a conventionally realist sense e.g. ’the existence of goodness /proves/ there is a God’ or 3c2) in a less conventional, Quinean sense ‘in order for the moral system, which we’re all committed to, to function there is a need to posit the existence (perhaps read this as ‘posit the existence as a theoretical postulate, whether or not it exists in a conventional sense’) of something roughly analogous to the conventional monotheistic deity. So this is a variant of an argument which goes something like this; ‘morality or meaning-in-your-life doesn’t make sense without God (either as a means of grounding non-logical absolutes or as a entity with a sub specie aeternitatis (read; God’s eye view) perspective on the world and we want/pragmatically need it to make sense therefore we need to posit the existence of God. Maybe numbers are an unhelpful analogy (though ontologically speaking, that’s the move here); a more intuitive example might be the case of induction. We can agree pace Hume that we have no sound justification for trusting in induction but human life would not work without it so a kind of practical logic requires us endorsing the reliability of induction as a (logical?/para-logical) truth. Similarly, the argument here goes that human life would not function in an existential or a social sense without meaning or morality, meaning and morality require the existence of a deity, therefore we need to posit the existence of a deity.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op8:51 am - aug 20, 2011

Thanks Andreas for sticking out your head! I am afraid that opening gov would put their head the chopping board with this line, though. All arguments are generally considered flawed.

1) If God can exist beyond time & space & be a first cause of eveything, then a ‘meta-universe’ can do so as well. A transcendental cause need not be God (unless you define God as just that and no more than that).

2) You missed a detail here. Bertrand Russell went on to show why Anselm’s ontological argumentis flawed; he just remarked that while it is intuively false it’s  bit more tricky to actually disprove & that when he was confronted with the argument as a student he believed it to be true for a moment (& this is the context of your quote). Imagine the POI. As Russell points out, the argument implicitly assumes the existence of God. Correctly written it is a tautology “IF the most perfect being exists, THEN it has all perfections; existence is a perfection, therefore IF the most perfect being exists, THEN the most perfect being exists.” As a side note, the argument also proofs the existence of perfect teapots, transformers & aliens.

3) People’s sensation of God might well be an illusion (it can be induced by stimulering the brain in some people) – how likely you believe it is an illusion or real depends on how likely you think God exists in the first place. (So, it’s a circular argument.) Furthermore, people have sensed Atman, Jaweh, Zeus, Buddah, Thor, Huitzilopoztli & surely you dont claim they all exist. Finally, many people sense God does not exist. So sensation does not bring us anywhere here.

– “DPM” ?! 1. It is inconsistent to argue for the arbitrariness of logical arguments on the basis of … à  logical argument. If you give up on logic & reason, any communication becomes meaningless. (It seems a necessary ontological commitment.) 2. Even if the argument would have held, it only would prove that belief in God is equally reasonable than disbelief.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op9:09 am - aug 20, 2011

Excuse the typos, am typing on iPhone.

Andreas LazarGeplaatst op2:59 pm - aug 20, 2011

Oh, I know the arguments I brought are ultimately unsound, as any proofs of God must be. But they don’t have to hold up to calm and thorough scrutiny, only to the Opp’s frantic and to the judges’ relative-merit-based one. So if they were sufficiently embellished and delivered with conviction, I think it might be possible to eke out a win. There might also be better arguments out there, maybe someone can name a few? Let’s look at my arguments one by one for now to see if they can be rescued.

1. An intelligent God as the first cause instead of an unintelligent meta-universe or something like that seems more plausible if you think about the cosmological constants being so finely tuned to enable life that even a minuscule change would have led to stars and planets not even being able to form. Surely this can’t just be coincidence? Surely this means the universe was created to enable life, by a loving God?

2. I was a bit disingenuous in only giving Russell’s initial reaction to the ontological argument 🙂 But if you were in Opp and heard this argument for the first time in your life, do you think you would be able to spot and explain the flaw in at most 21 minutes?

3. Surely the overwhelming majority’s sense of God or Gods across all of human history is not a delusion, we are not crazy like that, right? Isn’t it more likely that atheists suffer from some sort of modern illness which blocks their sense of divinity?

DPM (Deputy Prime Minister): Ah, you’ve discovered my contradiction in bringing an argument calling to give up logic while relying on logic for the argument to carry the day 😛 But I maintain it could still work, and once you’ve “proven” God’s existence by non-logical means, she exists for a certain set of axioms. And that’s all you need.

    Daan WellingGeplaatst op3:57 pm - aug 20, 2011

    A line I would very much like to bring is the idea that rejecting God and purpose leads to an existential crisis for human beings ; we are unsuited to accept purposelessness, or chaos ; Nietzchean Übermenschen be damned. Therefore the experience of being human is intertwined with the religious purpose of living out the edicts of a divine Creator. Of course, this debate is almost hinting at “This House Believes that religion is a force for the good”.

    Micha Beekman pointed out on Facebook – and I think he’s right – that issues such as the existence of “consciousness” are very well-explained when adding in a “God-creator”, as denying feelings like that lead to Matrix-like outcomes for the opposition, which sounds intuitively nasty or false claims to uphold ; in a competition of rhetorics this might very well be the solution for proposition.

      Andreas LazarGeplaatst op4:16 pm - aug 20, 2011

      Consciousness and morality can be explained by evolution and self-interest, respectively. And even if we desperately needed God, that is no proof for her existence.

    DuncanGeplaatst op1:28 am - aug 22, 2011

    “…as any proofs of God must be.”

    As (caveat) a convinced (hard) atheist, I’m not sure I’d accept that. Soundness in the strict sense, sure; to be committed to atheism is to be committed to the view that any arguments for theism are ultimately unsound (meanwhile to be a thinking human being is to the committed to the principle that if any decent arguments show up you’ll change your mind (or have a desire to do so, cognitive biases being what they are)), but some are more implausible than others. In the arguments you offered you conceded that LO could refute them in one speech. Now, there are a number of people I know who are sane, rational, intelligent, philosophically educated and theists. These people must all have reasons for their belief in God. Of course, it might turn out that when you come to examine it these reasons are all such that they cannot be used in an inter-subjective/debates context; there are appeals to personal experience or revelation or there are (non-pejoratively) irrational factors such as strong emotional connections to communities which are the ultimate cause of their theism, but even those of the latter sort probably have hallways decent rationales for their beliefs. It seems a totally (and obviously) implausible view to me that religious believers have no better reasons for their beliefs than the ontological argument (seriously; we teach children the problems with that one), the causal cosmological argument and ‘strength in numbers; there’s a lot of believers out there’.

    1: “…being so finely tuned…” I agree up to a point but (I hope this is obvious) there is a big difference between the causal cosmological argument and the fine tuning argument. The fine tuning argument, I’m not even sure is really a variant of the cosmological argument at all but rather of the teleological argument (just ‘cause it’s about cosmology don’t mean it goes with the cosmological argument in the taxonomy) as it’s clearly an a posteriori argument whereas the cosmological argument… well, your views might differ on its strict a priori/a posteriori status but it’s perhaps indicative that Hume refers to it in the Dialogues as ’the argument a priori’ and is not obviously wrong for doing so. As I indicated on Facebook, the fine tuning argument is one I’d run, in part because the big flaw in it is a) not something which is common knowledge yet, I don’t think and b) difficult to get right. I’d bet that (given the right astrological signs or whatever I need to function competently rhetorically) I could make it look as though someone who’d stumbled on the anthropic bias counter-argument was just confused. Probabilistic logic can be confusing and this can be used to the prop’s advantage.

    2: “But if you were in Opp and heard this argument for the first time in your life, do you think you would be able to spot and explain the flaw in at most 21 minutes?” – I’d hope so, but I find the counterfactual ‘imagine you didn’t know half the things you know (and presumably knew some other things instead to compensate) would you be able to spot the flaw in this argument.

    I still worry the DPM response is a clear indicator you don’t have any faith even in the superficial plausibility of your arguments.

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op9:15 pm - aug 20, 2011

– I agree the nihilistic line is interesting & meritworthy, but as you point out, it  relates to a different debate (ie religion is a force for the good or a reasonable moral agent must belief in God)
– On God explaining the inexplicable. Things we cannot explain are no argument for God. The problem is that if you introduce God, you need to explain God’s existence. If you assume that things exist that do not require further explanation (ie God), then God is not needed to explain the inexplicable in the first place. Another problem is that God is used to explain things that are characteristics of God itself, and things typically can only be explained by things prior to them. Eg, arguably God is conscious, but then how can God explain consciousness? (Then he magically explains himself.)

Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op9:17 pm - aug 20, 2011

@Andreas. If all reasonable arguments for a motion fail upon careful consideration (as you accept), then it surely must be a very biased motion. Not that (1st) prop will always loose, brilliant argumentation or rhetoric (or bad opponents) surely can carry the day in some debates. But that a motion can be won by (1st) prop does not mean it is fair.

    Andreas LazarGeplaatst op5:35 pm - aug 21, 2011

    Well yes, there can ultimately be no proof of God by reason. But I don’t know if that’s only the case for this debate or rather for many motions, and therefore, if this one is really unfair. Maybe some more people could chime in with how they would have run prop?

Stephen BoyleGeplaatst op11:59 am - aug 21, 2011

Couldn’t agree more, Manos. I think the idea that it is a “crazy motion” is ridiculous. This is one of THE biggest debates in human history, if people cannot create a good argument for belief in god then it’s a sorry state of affairs. The broader point is whether we should be debating things that are intangible of values. Personally I’m glad to see more of these motions coming into vogue. They test different skills to just reciting the facts you know about the Taiwan Strait and Chinese missile capabilities, and push people into speaking in a more persuasive, audience-oriented way if they wish to win. Both types have merit, and I like the variety which they offer.

Wieger KopGeplaatst op11:41 pm - aug 21, 2011

I think that this debate is very nuanced, as Shengwu also pointed out. I cannot believe that finalists of a European championship have never thought about the existence of god. Discussions at home, in school, within your society, aswell as the availibity of many books should have lured in many debaters to this discussion. Then lets point out that the first speaker has 15 minutes to think of stuff, then the second speaker already has 25 minutes. With this basic knowledge that I am sorry, but every debater should have, the first prop does not have to be absolutely brilliant. Yes, in a final you have to be really good, but you are still first prop. You gain points by staying relevant aswell. Now I am sure that even the soft, nimwitted ESL debaters in first prop that Lars and Eric are protecting are capable of staying relevant in the average of 20 min of prep time that they have. Also, being opp in this motion requires you to debate that god does not exist (as it is the opposite of existence), and you are faced with the same problem of not having any absolute axiums of existence. I am already looking forward to all the video’s of chickens that I will probably recieve because of this comment;)

Eric StamGeplaatst op10:21 am - aug 22, 2011

Well, it’s actually not true that I turned this into an ESL-issue because of the reasons mentioned here and earlier. My reasons are simply pragmatic, and they have very little to do with doubts about the intellectual capacities of ESL-speakers in general.

– I wouldn’t set this motion in a final if I would know that – probably – most speakers in that final have never debated metaphysics before. It’s succesfull use at an Irish IV is therefore of little relevance for me. It might be a reason to set such a motion in a preliminary round. However, no one from the adjudication team has answered the question whether they have considered to set the motion here. It seems relevant to me, because if a motion in a preliminary round ”fails” on statistical grounds (prop/opp odds not balanced) and receives much complains from teams and judges, wouldn’t it be much easier then for the adjudication team to admit that setting this motion was a bit unlucky?

– I would pay some attention to differences in cultural background that – most likely – occur in an ESL final. Again, this has nothing to do with doubting the intellectual capacities of ESL-speakers but it would have something to do with consideration for the fact that they understand some concepts differently. As mentioned by one of the Israelian finalists in the comments of my article, the risk of votile definitions and a messy debate was quite high with this one. When ESL finals are messy, and they sometimes are, this often has much to do with the fact ESL teams are less predicatable because they bring in perspectives that are far from dominant in the higher levels of the competition.

– I am very much with Daniel Schut that debating metaphysics is very difficult in parliamentary debating. I’m not saying it’s not interesting or impossible. But one of the interesting conclusions from this conclusions so far: many people emphazise that the only thing a team has to do in order to win is to speak persuasively and intelligently about the given topic. I like hearing that. However, the way I understood British Parliamentary to work is that those teams do not always win. Partly, I believe, because it is possible to speak persuasively and intelligently about a given topic and to break fundamental rules of logic at the same time. No doubt that an ESL finalist should be able to give a good and entertaining speech on all topics possible. However, expecting them to turn this into winning speeches requires a bit more intuitive understanding about the expectations adjudication teams have.

However, your opinion is very much appreciated. No chicken video’s from my part.

Eric StamGeplaatst op11:32 am - aug 22, 2011

By the way, since I referred to the motion analysis of Amsterdam Open 2008 (en 2009) I thought posting this example would be nice:


Adrian_de_Groot_RuizGeplaatst op7:15 am - aug 23, 2011

@ Duncan.
1.So, the strongest argument is a sophisticated form of “We need God in order to live meaningfully/morally.” I agree this is a strong argument in a “THB that a reasonable, moral agent must belief in God” but not for the motion that “THB God exists.” A) People may not (wish to) be moral and (B), more importantly, a desire for a meaningful world, does not make the premise of a meaningful world more plausible. (From the point of view of a ´reasonable moral agent´ you can argue you should condition on the event that the world is reasonable & moral, since it does not matter what you believe or do in the event the world isn’t.)
2. Well, theists do not need to think one can prove God rationally. All that is needed is that it is not less rational to believe in a God than hold another set of beliefs. As said, most theists I know don’t think they can prove God rationally.

@ Wieger
1. Nobody says the debate isn’t very nuanced. I’d say it’s too nuanced and, furthermore, that the relevant, nuanced debate is not between theism & atheism, but between agnosticism allowing for reasonable belief & atheism. I don´t think it´s about ESL either. There might be the specific ESL issue in that it is an uncommon motion, but the motion seems biased to me as well for people who are used to such God debates. I don’t think it has to do with metaphysics per se either, as all debates involve metaphysics. (Although exclusively metaphysical debates tend to be more tricky, as you move away from common knowledge and get definitional issues.) It’s mainly about an unfair burden of proof on prop side. I think one can have a good debate about God’s existence, but then a CA-team should have tweaked the motion so as to make the burden of proof clearer and fairer (eg. THB a moral agent must believe in a theistic God or THB that belief in God is rational/THB that theism and atheism are equally rational.)

2. I don´t think you´re a chicken. I do think it´s remarkable that many people who claim it´s a good motion do not substantiate their claim. After all, there´s little information value in unsubstantiated claims. Well, from a game theoretic perspective, there´s actually a negative one: formulating & writing down a good argument costs effort & the harder the argument, the more effort it costs to write it down. So, not substantiating a claim makes it more likely one could not easily find a good argument for the claim.

3. The point you raise that proving God’s nonexistence is equally difficult as his existence is relevant. Your reasoning itself is too quick though: one can prove nor disprove teapots in an orbit around the earth but a debate about the existence of extraterrestrial teapots is hardly a fair one. Anyhow, I agree it’s a dead ally to try to prove God’s nonexistence as opp. However, I do think it’s much easier to make his nonexistence plausible than his existence. The reason is that theism comprises a much more narrow and specific set of hypotheses than atheism. And it´s always easier to defend a larger set of hypothesis against a smaller one given all are unverifiable. More specifically, there are infinite explanations for our existence, infinite possible ontological commitments & infinite possible metaphysical realities. So, while it is impossible to disprove any single consistent account, it is plausible that any specific account is unlikely. You can argue this makes it irrational to believe in any specific account, making near-certain atheism rational.

There are many possible ways to flesh this line out. One is Occam’s razor. A variation is that you need to give a strong reason to believe in a specific account over a more general account. So if you have identified the minimum set of requirements for an explanation, it is irrational to believe in anything more specific. For instance, if you find a stone in a forest of red stone close to a red-stone mountain, a reasonable inference is that the stone came from the red mountain. It seems then irrational to infer from the single stone that it was left there by a small girl who climbed the mountain to find a present for her mother’s birthday. Another variation can focus on rational sources for belief: if after an honest introspection it turns out people believe in something more specific not for an ‘objective reason’ but because the belief satisfies a need or is due to socialization, then one may argue this is an irrational basis to hold a more specific belief.

Now, I think there are good counterarguments to this atheism line, but (i) these will take you at most towards agnosticism, not theism, and (ii) the counterarguments do not have the same knock-out effect as the arguments against God-proofs have. (So it’s a debatable motion.) The win chances depend on how you define God, and how you slice the probability distribution over the set of assumptions. (This makes it (unfairly) hard for a prop not used to such debates to choose a line that will result in a clear debate and a possible win.)

The weakest assumption seems that there is some explanation for our existence (99% prop win) but this seems a squirl as an explanation need not be God. To this we can add the assumption that the explanation is metaphysical, (40% prop win chances at best) but equating God with something metaphysical still seems way too broad. Then we can add that the assumption the explanation involves something with conciousness & purpose, resulting in say 20% prop wins. These seem necessary conditions for God, but probably still insufficient to most believers’ conception of God. For this, we need to add at least morality and meaningfulness to our existential explanation, making prop win chances around 10%. [Going further, arguing eg for a Judeochristian conception of God seems an unnecessarily suicidal propline – 1% prop win?]

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