Matt Dillahunty debates David Robertson on atheism, morality and evil

Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!
Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!

OK. So I think it’s safe to say that of all the Christian apologists out there, David Robertson is my least favorite debater. Why? Many reasons, but mostly because he does not bring in evidence, especially scientific evidence. And he seems to make these clever quips like G. K. Chesterton. I like evidence. I would rather that he talk about scientific and historical evidence.

Well, Dina asked me to listen to this debate between David Robertson and agnostic Matt Dillahunty (he’s not an atheist, he’s just an agnostic) and I went in absolutely convinced that Robertson was going to have his ass handed to him by Matt Dillahunty. And I could not have been more wrong.

Here’s the debate posted on YouTube (audio only):

This snarky summary is just a paraphrase from certain parts of the debate, it is not designed for accuracy, but for fun – to make you listen to the debate. Listen to the debate to get the exact words in context.

Summary:

  • Matt Dillahunty: he’s an agnostic who calls himself an atheist
  • David Robertson: he’s from Scotland, could we not get someone better?
  • Robertson opening statement is incredibly weak, as you might expect, he only had two arguments embedded in a long list of nonsense: 1) origin and design of the universe 2) reality of evil requires objective morality

1) Creation/Design:

Robertson: The fact is that matter exists. There are 3 views that could account for this fact: 1) created, 2) eternal, 3) self-generated out of nothing. 3) is self-contradictory, 1) requires a Creator, and 2) is falsified by the Big Bang cosmology. So what’s your view?

Dillahunty: You’re trying to get me to say what my view is, but I can just say “I don’t know” and get out of having to take any position on how matter got here.  I can say “I don’t know” to all the scientific evidence for the Big Bang cosmology, too!

2) Evil requires objective morality, requires a moral lawgiver:

Robertson: evil exists, e.g. – the Holocaust. If atheism is true, objective morality is impossible. Richard Dawkins agrees. Therefore, theism is the best explanation for the existence of evil.

Dillahunty: In my opinion, morality means doing what helps people have well-being. And I think that the Holocaust is obviously bad, because it hurts the well-being of the victims.

Robertson: The problem is that people decide what well-being is.If you were raised in the Social Darwinism of the Nazi regime, you would believe that the Holocaust was the best for the well-being of the society as a whole.

Dillahunty: Isn’t it obvious that killing people is bad for their well-being?

Robertson: Is it bad for the well-being of unborn children to kill them?

Dillahunty: Yes

Robertson: So you’re against abortion, then?

Dillahunty: No

Robertson: So you think that killing the child in the womb is against the well-being of the child, but you’re for that?

Dillahunty: I don’t know! I don’t know!

Then Dillahunty tried to claim Hitler was a Christian:

Dillahunty: here is a quote by Hitler saying that secular schools are bad, and religious schools are good – see, he’s a Christian!

Robertson: when was that said and to whom?

Dillahunty: I don’t know, I don’t know!

Robertson: It was said in 1933, during an election campaign, to Catholic authorities – he was a politician, looking for votes from Catholics so he could become Chancellor.

Good and evil on atheism:

Dillahunty: good actions results in states with more well-being, and evil actions result in states with less well-being.

Brierley: but when the Nazis slaughtered all those people, they believed they were increasing well-being

Dillahunty: But you could demonstrate to them that their action is not going to increase well-being. Survival of the fittest is descriptive of what happens, but it’s not prescriptive.

Robertson: Whose well-being will human beings think about most, if not their own? Do you really think that you can stop people like Charles Manson from being evil by sitting down and trying to prove to them that they are not helping their victim’s well-being?

(A BIT LATER)

Robertson (to Dillahunty): Is it a fact that Dachau (a concentration camp) was morally wrong?

Dillahunty: (literally, not a paraphrase) I DON’T KNOW

My thoughts:

When I listened to this debate, the overwhelming conviction that emerges is that Matt Dillahunty is not someone who forms his worldview based on evidence. His rejection of the Big Bang cosmology with “I don’t know” is just atrocious. His comments about slavery in the Bible and Hitler being a Christian show that his investigations of these issues is far below the level of a responsible adult. His dallying with the Jesus-never-existed view just shows him to be fundamentally anti-intellectual, as even Bart Ehrman denies that view. His definition of faith has nothing to do with the Bible, or Christian authorities, or Christian scholars – it’s just something that atheists invent and believe among themselves, with no reference to reality. Why? Because it makes them feel more intelligent to look down on others, even if they have to lie to themselves to do it. When asked to state his positions or respond to specific evidence, his response is very often “I don’t know”. It seems to me that atheism, to him, means not pursuing truth with the aim of grasping it. He wants to keep reality at a safe distance. This is not intellectually responsible – we are supposed to be searching for truth.

On morality, it’s even worse. It’s not surprising to me that he is pro-abortion and has no opinion about concentration camps being objectively evil. Most atheists are pro-abortion, by the way, which tells you a lot of their misappropriation of moral language when it suits them. When it comes to morality, Dillahunty only has his own personal opinions, and they refer to nothing outside his own mind. (His opinion of morality as related to well-being is utilitarianism – a very problematic view – but moreover, it is his view and different people will differ on what constitutes well-being). Without an after-life, there is no reason for anyone to care about the moral point of view when it goes against their self-interest, anyway. Atheists use moral language, but there is nothing substantial there, because their statements are not referring to any objective, prescriptive moral reality. Atheism is materialistic and therefore deterministic – it does not even ground the free will that is needed to make moral choices. Their view is Darwinian survival of the fittest, that’s what emerges from their origins story – and it does not rationally ground morality. The strong kill the weak, if they can. I’ve written before about how difficult it is for atheists to rationally condemn things like slavery, and nothing in Dillahunty’s presentation led me to believe that he had solved that problem.

Anybody can be an intellectually-satisfied atheist with an empty head – it’s knowledge that causes people to conform their beliefs to reality.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

17 thoughts on “Matt Dillahunty debates David Robertson on atheism, morality and evil”

  1. Here is a rough sketch of a 2-part argument I use against the atheists’ desperate attempt to make Hitler into a Christian / Catholic (note – a couple of the points rely on some Hitler quotes (by atheists) that he made in the 1920’s and early 30’s – not provided):

    A. So, Hitler was committed to worshipping a Jew Whose guiding principle was to love God and one’s neighbor as oneself?!? Pretty absurd. (that is the short rebuttal)

    B. “Not many Germans lost much sleep over the arrests of a few thousand pastors and priests… the Nazi regime intended to eventually destroy Christianity in Germany…As Bormann…said publicly in 1941, ‘National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.’… 13. The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany…18. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles, and pictures of saints. 19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf…the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals, and chapels…and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.” The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 240.

    Thus far, we have:
    1. Crosses and crucifixes taken down and replaced by Swastika. (Just what modern-day organization is demanding that crosses come down? Oh yes, the Freedom From Thought group. :-) (OK, FFRF.))
    2. “Irreconcilability of Nazism and Christianity.” (or Darwinism and Christianity. :-))
    3. Termination of Bible publishing. (To be fair, a-theists haven’t pulled this off yet. But, they do like making fun of it, as opposed to the Quran. :-))
    4. Replacement of the Bible with Mein Kampf. (The latter is a remarkably similar tome to “On the Origin of the Species.”)
    5. Arrest of pastors and priests. (That is already happening, in a small way, in the West. Guess who is pushing it?)
    6. Hitler’s “Jesus” was a fighter and not a sufferer.
    7. Hitler’s “Christ” died to eradicate the Jewish poison.
    8. Defending against the Jew is Hitler’s “Jesus'” highest calling.

    Well, that’s it. Pretty much looks like the Nicene Creed to me! :-) I would say that Joseph Stalin and the president of American Atheists were more “Christian” than Hitler. :-)

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    1. I recently read Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer book and it’s very detailed in how Hitler treated every idea of Jesus he could. From a German perspective Luther united the Germans with a common German dialect with his bible translation. So, using Luther and Christianity was unavoidable in appealing publicly to a German people.

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      1. Atheism is the view that God does not exist.

        It is not a statement about a person. It is a claim about reality for which we should expect reasons and evidence. Otherwise, it’s just blind faith / personal preference. I will admit that all the atheists I know adopted atheism in order to be free of moral rules so they could seek pleasure without feeling guilty.

        In my experience, I have found that most atheists are totally uninterested in talking about scientific evidence or historical evidence. The point of claiming to be an atheist is to get rid of the morality. It’s not a worldview that concerns itself with truth. The goal is not to act in line with reality, the goal is to reject, science, history, logic, etc. so that you can do what you feel like and no one can judge you for it.

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    1. Wow – that is one Bad-A blog you posted – thank you for the link! I actually cannot see anything wrong with it – and the attempts by the those who commented reeked of desperation. I actually have had some atheists propose that some unknown non-physics physics is what caused the universe to come into existence. I usually reply that I would love to see that model, but I guess they can’t show it to me because it is (necessarily) invisible. :-)

      I really like the approach you took there. I am attracted to the Argument from Unconditioned Reality in the same manner – as it is a complete disjunctive approach, along somewhat similar lines.

      I wonder if Premise 2 “The universe was created by God” would be more palatable to the unbeliever if it was couched as “The universe was created by Something that is spaceless, timeless, non-material, immensely powerful, has personal free will, and is self-existing.”? It seems reasonable to assign such characteristics based on established cosmology. Of course, anyone who thinks for a moment knows this is what we mean by God, but you know how atheists have such a strong emotional reaction to that word. :-)

      That is a keeper – thanks again!

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      1. “Unknown non-physics physics” sounds a lot like God to me! I agree, I think your comment about phrasing it that way might be a better way of putting it. Thanks for the comments!

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      1. My unprepared self was shown matt dillahunty roasting an ignorant Christian in his Atheist experience show. As well as his argument against TAG with Matt Slick of CARM.

        Seemed to know his stuff until this came up.

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    1. Great analogy. I think it would be fair to say that Matt is a strict verificationist. I’ve listened to some of his debates, and he generally uses the same method. Perhaps it should be called the double d method – “Demonstrate this. Define that.”
      This would seem reasonable, however I think he abuses this method. I remember Matt having a discussion about racism, and he said “define racism”. Really?? If it seems like he’s losing or that his position is self-contradictory or inconsistent, he’ll retreat into the safe bubble of agnosticism, or simply reduce the argument to semantics. This methodology is very effective in debates.

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