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RF Community Forums - Resource Material.
« on: December 15, 2015, 09:42:51 pm »
As promised, we will begin delivering a series of posts and articles with content aimed at collating and curating some points of information that can be referenced by the community in other conversations, and hopefully put to rest some of the points of contention that have seem to resurface every six months like a the zombies of a new series of the Walking Dead.

For tidiness sake, I will be locking this thread, so that all posts remain together and easier to search. Community members are certainly welcome, however, to open new discussions about each post as it arrives.

Please enjoy, and feel free to offer suggestions on content you'd like to see added to this thread!


Michael, aka Logos.

Link to Discussion Thread.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2016, 12:47:54 am by Logos »
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Re: RF Community Forums - Resource Material.
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2015, 10:34:55 pm »
I'd like to kick this off with a bugbear that has had me grinding my teeth many times in my stay here, that being, the implications of Dr Craig as a "professional debater", as opposed to a philosopher. With some experience in both fields (however smaller scale than Dr Craig's they may be) let's see what insight I can offer on the matter.

Debating as a Sport vs Debating as an Academic Discipline - What's the difference?

A key element of Dr Craig's work and ministry is his public debates, and anyone who has seen him at work in such an event knows that this man has the art of debating down to an art form. However, as anyone with experience in debate knows, there are many different styles, formats, and purposes to debating. For the purposes of this discussion, I will be dividing the over discipline of 'Debating' into two categories: Sporting event and Academic discipline.

In providing examples and observations on the different types of debates, I will be drawing on my experience as a college level debater, and as the newly appointed training officer for my college debate society. I will also be drawing on my experience from having watched many debates, both professional and amateur, academic and sporting.

There are many similarities and differences between the sport of debating, and debating as an academic discipline and outlet. To that end, we will look at the similarities between the two, and then move on to three key differences that must be understood if we are to analyse Dr Craig's debate style and performance accurately. Finally, we will apply those similarities and differences to Dr Craig's debates, to discuss how they should, ideally speaking, be referenced here on the forums.

With that said, let us begin with listing some of the similarities:

The similarities.

Both the sport and discipline of debating require incredibly an similar skill set. They are for the most part a form of public speaking, requiring confidence, clarity, projection, pacing, the ability to think on the fly, the subtle art of signposting, and the ability to quickly assess an argument and demonstrate it's weaknesses in logic and rhetoric.

These are speaking and thinking skills used by many people in public speaking, let alone debating. Thus, when one sees these skills employed in a set of debates, it is easy to miss the differences between a game and a passionate argument over the truth. As an example, I will explain the art of signposting as a debate technique, so that we may see how Dr Craig uses this skill masterfully in his debates, but also demonstrate how this technique is applied to many other areas of public life, and is therefore not simply a rhetorical device for winning an argument with a faulty position.

Most debate teachers and trainers will explain signposting in the following three steps:

  • Tell them what you're going to say.
  • Say what you're going to say.
  • Tell them that you've told them.

In Dr Craig's debates, notice that he will always divide his arguments numerically. He begins by saying that he will present five lines of reasoning about the existence of God. Upon beginning each line of reasoning, he will count off that number, sometimes even gesturing by counting on his fingers. Each argument is broken into it's component parts, and numbered again, for example, the three facts surrounding the empty tomb. Again, each syllogism presented will be clearly enunciated with a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion, often counting on his fingers as a visual aid.

At each part of his presentation, substantive or rebuttal, the audience know where they are in terms of the greater picture, and are not left wondering where this is going or how long he has left. By 'signposting', Dr Craig allows the audience to see how each part of the argument fits into a bigger picture, creating a single cohesive presentation.

Now, this is not a simple debating trick. Any of you who have sat through high school speeches or college tutorial presentations will know the pain of hearing someone droning on and on in a dull monotone, barely looking up from their speech notes. Even for a less confident speaker, imagine the benefits of some signposting in the presentation. Perhaps those in the room would be less likely to stare out the windows or at the clock.

Now, with all that said, on to the more important part of this debate analysis... The differences:

The differences.

As I mentioned previously, there are three key differences between debate as a sporting game and an academic discipline. Those being; Format, purpose, and rules. Each of these differences share some overlapping territory with the others, but each have a key and critical individual area in which they are important.

The format.

The first and most obvious difference between an academic debate and a sporting debate is the format of both the event itself, and the teams.

In most debating societies and tournaments, each debate society is expected to put forward a team of three people. These three people will be given the chance to speak only once per debate (there are, of course, exceptions. In the Australs debate format, each team nominates their first or second speaker to speak again as fourth speaker, to provide an analysis of the debate up to that point, with no new substantives or rebuttals allowed). This places a high emphasis on teamwork and interplay between each speaker. Because the focus of the game is on skill and technique, each speaker will only receive a short time to speak, usually between six to eight minutes.

By contrast, an academic debate will usually only have a single speaker on each side of the debate. Because the focus of the event is on a fierce and rigorous argument over the fact of a matter, each speaker is allocated significantly longer time, opening with anything from twelve to twenty minutes, and rebutting with shorter but still considerable time periods.

Additionally, many academic debates will offer a question and answer section between the debaters and the audience, or perhaps a sit down discussion between the two academics afterwards. This is to allow the audience the chance to highlight any issues or problems they may have with the debaters substantives or rebuttals, and to reduce any chance that cheap rhetorical tricks will be allowed to simply fly under the radar. Because the focus of the sporting debate is precisely about those kinds of tricks, they will not be explored in any details, apart from in the judges decisions on who used them to the best effect.

The purpose.

As we explored briefly in the previous section, the purpose of the debate as a sporting event is to test two groups against each other in a battle of rhetological wits and public speaking. As such, topics are usually chosen with a mind towards a certain kind of vagueness, where an argument can be reasonably made for both the affirmative and the negative positions. As such, a professional debater entering into a tournament may find themselves arguing for a position that they passionately disagree with. This, as one might imagine, can lead to the notion that anyone engaging in a debate is more interested in winning than in the truth. I can personally attest to attending a public theology tournament down in our nations capital, where I saw a team have to argue for the positions that "A Christian in political leadership is permitted to tell a 'noble lie'", and was frustrated to watch this team thoroughly trounce the opposition, and take the victory.

Conversely, in an academic debate, each debater is chosen specifically for their knowledge and conviction regarding the affirmative or negative position regarding the debate proposition. In an academic debate, we would never expect to find a debater arguing a position they did not hold. This is in line with the notion that an academic debate is not a simple game, and the focus is on truth and logic over technique and rhetoric.

And, with this purpose in mind, this leads to the final point...

The Rules.

In a professional sporting debate, each speaker on the team has a specific role. The first speaker will generally lay out the entire case for their team in two or three major 'substantives', before elaborating and arguing the first one or two. They will explain which member of the team will argue which substantive, and then move on to their own. The second speaker will offer a short rebuttal on the opposing speaker before them, and then present their own substantive. The third speaker will either offer a short substantive of their own, if they have been set up for it, and then spend the rest of their speaking time rebutting the opposition. A strong third speaker can sway the entire debate, especially if they are third negative, and can use the fact that they have the final say to devastating effect.

However, this means that the substantives offered by each team must be entirely planned before the start of the event. I have witnessed some cases where the second and third speaker developed a positively devastating substantive argument in response to the oppositions opening case, only to have it counted against their team, precisely because the first speaker did not set them up for it.

Similarly, if the first affirmative speaker gives a definition for a key word in the debate proposition, and the first negative does not dispute that definition in the opening few seconds of their own speaking time, they will be seen to have conceded that definition, and will have to work with it for the rest of the event. Should the second or third speaker wish to dispute a definition, and the first speaker has not already disputed it (or disputed it too late in their speaking time), their hands are tied, advantage opposition.

By contrast, this is not so in an academic debate, where the focus is, to repeat again, on truth over technique. Should a debater realise later in the event that a given definition is unfairly stacked against a given truth, they may challenge it as soon as they are allowed to speak again. Certainly, realising this later rather than sooner may not have the same psychological effect on some audiences as others, but they will not be actively penalised for it.

What does this mean for Dr Craig's debates?

Hopefully by this point most community members will understand the difference between the two major kinds of debates and, by extension, the difference between Dr Craig's high school and college debates, and the debates that he participates in as a part of his work with Reasonable Faith.

We can see many of the debate techniques used in both debate formats, such as signposting (which many detractors have called "Craig's scattergun approach", something we can hopefully put to bed as well), his attention to detail and sense of timing, and his clear speaking techniques.

However, simply because he is using these techniques, it does not logically follow that he is using them dishonestly, or with a mind towards winning the debate over arguing for a position he passionately advocates as true. This fact exists simply because his use of debate techniques does not logically follow to the fact that he is debating as a sport rather than as an academic exercise.
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Re: RF Community Forums - Resource Material.
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2015, 05:08:02 pm »
I have, in the last week or so, sent out a number of warnings and a suspension or two for insults and general rudeness. What has shocked me most about this behaviour is the near universal response, with community members citing 'honesty' as their defence and claiming that, seeing as they were being honest, they couldn't see how they were being rude.

This evokes memories of many images and memes shared on social media, captioned "I'm not rude, I just call it how I see it", or "I'm not mean, just honest". Usually posted by people who aren't intending to be degrading to others (although there certainly may be a percentage who know they're putting others down, but think that honesty gives them a free pass), they believe that good intentions excuse them from bad behaviour.

Therefore, here it is:

The Reasonable Faith Community Forum Guide to Honesty and Politeness.

The American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer once said:

Rudeness is the weak person's imitation of strength.

With that acknowledged, it takes a strength to communicate an uncomfortable truth in a way that encourages others, rather than discouraging them. So how to do one while avoiding the other?

For the purposes of this discussion, let us invoke a handy acronym: VIRTUE. That being, visibility, integrity, retaliation, truthfulness, usefulness, and emotion.

Visibility - Does your message need to be made public?

First and foremost, this is a public discussion forum. We've certainly had our share of interesting characters come by but, for the most part, we're all fairly normal people here. Consequently, when we see people acting out of character, or have reason to believe someone is struggling with anger, meaning, depression etc, the first and most obvious question to be asked is does this seem like the kind of behaviour I want to publicly call out?

As I have mentioned previously, when discussing the kinds of behaviour welcome here at Reasonable Faith, it helps to imagine our community forum as an actual house party. This is Dr Craig's house, we are all here spread out between the various living rooms, and discussing the kinds of things that we know Dr Craig knows and loves. Just as it would be immensely poor form to go into a man's house, take advantage of his hospitality (Dr Craig pays the bills for this site and its employees after all), and then bad mouth that man, so it's also incredibly bad behaviour to publicly announce that one of the guests is boring, or has mental illness, or is insufferably stupid, or has no place being there etc.

These kinds of behaviours may certainly exist, and you may absolutely feel the need to address them, but ask yourself this: On a forum with a private messaging system, a system for reporting and three active moderators, should publicly calling out concerning behaviour be your first and only port of call? Keep in mind, we're not talking about obviously bad behaviour, like swearing, or insulting, or posting links to obscene material. Rather, we're talking about behaviour that is not immediately wrong, but raises concerns for the quality of the conversation.

No, take it to PM, CC in a moderator if you think it's necessary, or drop a moderator a message with your concerns.

Integrity - Is what you're saying lining up with what you're intending?

I used to know someone who would, with no prior warning, and with no tact whatsoever, announce "wow you're getting fat!" to people they knew, regardless of how many others were present, or what the person they were talking to was doing about their weight at the time.

Ignoring the now (hopefully) clearly explained problem of doing these things publicly, we must now consider what the purpose of the message is. Let us assume, for the time being, that the person making the statement is tactful enough not to do this in a room full of people.

With that said, consider the following two statements:

- Wow you're getting fat!
- I've noticed you're putting some weight on. Are you aware of this? What are you doing about it? Can I help?

It's easy to imagine both parties claiming that they're simply being honest, and trying to help. But what immediate differences are notable between the two statements?

First and foremost, notice that the second statement is clear and explicit in it's intent. It requires more effort, certainly, but rather than simply pronouncing judgement, it invites the other person into a conversation.

Now a person making the first statement may actually be ready to offer some advice, provide some accountability, be a safe person to talk to etc. They may be wanting to talk about whatever underlying stress might be causing their friend to binge eat, or forgo exercise etc. But the key issue here is that none of that is conveyed in the message they're sending.

One might want to defend their behaviour by suggesting that their care and tact should be implicit in the message, rather than need to be explicitly explained. But put the shoe on the other foot: If you cannot be bothered to explicitly state your care and tact, why should they be bothered to read the implicit message you believe you're sending, rather than take you at face value?

Stop and properly ask yourself "am I trying to help, or am I trying to hurt".

Retaliation - Are you lashing out in response to a perceived injustice?

A number of times I have sent warnings or suspensions, I have been greeted the next morning with a message in my inbox saying something to the effect of "But they did it first! I was responding to their behaviour! I wanted them to see how it felt to have someone act in that way towards them!"

I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. So, without further ado, let's go back to one of the first moral lessons we're ever taught as children: Two wrongs do not make a right.

We've said this time and time again, that we do not (nor can we) read every word or every post that is posted to this forum. If you respond to bad behaviour with bad behaviour, we won't always see the bad behaviour that you're responding to. And then, when we respond to your bad behaviour, we're met with claims of favouritism, or double standards. On some months we're accused of favouring the Christians, other months we're accused of favouring the atheists. And all because you were too lazy to hit the report button, and instead decided to allow someone else's poor posting quality to affect your own.

If it matters enough to you to want to do something about it, do the right thing. Hit the report button, tactfully call out the bad behaviour, and walk away.

'nuff said.

Truthfulness - Are you telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

In some cases, "I'm simply being honest" actually means "I'm calling out the parts of your behaviour that I don't like while ignoring my own bad behaviour, or the context of this conversation". This means that often, when someone needs to say "hey I'm just being honest", that someone is really focussing on just enough of the truth to be able to be rude, and pretending the rest of the facts don't exist.

Cut it out.

Usefulness - Is what you're saying providing useful feedback? Or simply making a judgement.

This ties in closely with a lot of what we covered in "Integrity". But, rather than focussing on the intent, let's now turn our attention to the fallout, and everything that comes afterwards.

A simple question to ask yourself here is "am I offering a course of action on what I'd like to see happen going forward? Or am I merely passing judgement on a person and their behaviour".

Analogically speaking, one places you next to the person you're talking to, with the intent of walking with them. The other places you in front of them, face to face, blocking their path.

Emotion - How much of your response is being fuelled by your emotions?

This last point is one that many of us will not admit easily, that much of what we say is coloured by our emotions. It's hard to lay down a few simple rules for posting apart from your emotions, rather than posting from and through your emotions, but here are a few tips:

  • If you're feeling the need to post immediately and powerfully, that's probably a good indicator to walk away and come back later.
  • If you feel a visceral reaction to reading something, or writing your response, that's an emotional response right there. Walk away, come back later.
  • You know what? Just walk away and come back later.

What this means for the forum, going forward.

Simply put, "honesty" will no longer be tolerated as an excuse for being rude. You cannot be held responsible for the words that others say, but you will absolutely be held responsible for the words you say.
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Re: RF Community Forums - Resource Material.
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2016, 12:38:34 am »
While I was hoping to tackle Dr Craig's "Big 5" in numerical order, it's been brought to my attention that I am going to have to mix things up a little to help put out a few fires currently burning in the forums. With that said:

The Reasonable Faith Community Forum Guide to Transposing Beliefs

Pertains primarily to the Moral Argument and the Problem of Objective Meaning.

It seems to be a long running problem with debates, or discussions on particularly contentious topics, that people seem to put a priority on scoring points over the other side, rather than understanding the other sides reasoning, and talking to them on their own terms.

Consider the following adage:

Quote from: Murphy's Law
If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe or pregnancy, then someone will do it.

In terms of internet discussion, this can quickly be translated to:

Quote from: Logos's Law
If there are two or more ways to interpret something, and one of those ways will result in great offence, then someone will interpret it that way.

Very rarely do I see this played out in any other way than with reference to the Moral Argument, and the Problem of Objective Meaning. Let's begin with the Moral Argument.

Transposing the Moral Argument.

How many times has this gem been shared across social media?

The implication here is that a person who can determine right from wrong without the need of some kind of theological belief is superior to the person who must be told what is right and wrong. Even further, it argues that people who argue for the existence of God as a necessity if morality is to be objective are somehow flawed, and borderline sociopathic (if not the whole deal already).

Compare this argument to the way Dr Craig addresses the form and purpose of the Moral Argument. In the first thirty seconds of this Reasonable Faith video, it is established that the moral argument makes no claims on the existence of virtues in the hearts of non-believers.

Thought Experiment - Two Possible Worlds

However, let's turn this on it's head for a moment, and look at this from a sceptics position. Many atheists I've seen in my time here on the forums have expressed disgust and horror at the theistic argument that, without God, morality would be objective and thus everything would be morally permissible. This is not exactly a red herring approach to the argument, in fact it's quite instrumental to the argument. Let's look at two possible worlds where people feel this moral outrage at certain behaviours and crimes.

  • In world one, God exists and, in particular, is the Christian God of the Bible. There are atheists, and there are Christians (any many more others besides, but let's leave them out of the picture for a moment.

    In world one, as in the Bible, God has laid his commands into our hearts (which I see as poetic language for a metaphysical moral sense, like our five physical senses), and each of us instinctively know right from wrong, at least in many of the moral crimes that spark outrage in our philosophical conversations.

    The Christians of this world will understand this moral sense as it appears in the bible. They will be shocked and outraged at the thought of senseless murder, human trafficking, child abuse, etc. And they will (correctly) attribute this moral sense to the Spirit of God that speaks to them.

    The atheists of this world will understand this moral sense as it appears in behavioural biology and anthropology textbooks. They will be shocked and outraged at the thought of senseless murder, human trafficking, child abuse, etc. And they will (incorrectly) attribute this moral sense to a form of ethical evolution.

    Both parties here feel the same outrage over the same notions, but attribute the source of this moral sense differently.
  • In world two, God does not exist, and our ethics evolved over time throughout the growth and development of human culture. There are atheists, and there are Christians (any many more others besides, but let's leave them out of the picture for a moment.

    In world two, we are born with certain behavioural patterns, and many more of us are raised from birth to instinctively prefer some values over others, and each of us will eventually instinctively know right from wrong, at least in many of the moral crimes that spark outrage in our philosophical conversations.

    The Christians of this world will understand this moral sense as it appears in the bible. They will be shocked and outraged at the thought of senseless murder, human trafficking, child abuse, etc. And they will (incorrectly) attribute this moral sense to the Spirit of God that speaks to them.

    The atheists of this world will understand this moral sense as it appears in behavioural biology and anthropology textbooks. They will be shocked and outraged at the thought of senseless murder, human trafficking, child abuse, etc. And they will (correctly) attribute this moral sense to a form of ethical evolution.

    Both parties here feel the same outrage over the same notions, but attribute the source of this moral sense differently.

What that Means for Forum Discussion

To the atheists in this community this means that, when a Christian puts forward an argument that, under naturalism or atheism, child abuse and rape aren't really wrong, but are simply acts deemed unfavourable by society, it is imperative that you understand that they feel the same way about these things as you do.

The average Christian philosopher or theologian will not be haplessly wondering why you're so outraged at the thought of child abuse not being objectively wrong, in fact, they're counting on that outrage to help you see their argument that morals need to be grounded in something metaphysical and eternal, or else some prickly and truly disgusting consequences are left. Under your own world view, evolution and social conditioning has instilled them with many of the same values as you, they just attribute them differently, and wrongly.

To the Christians in this community, this means that no "atheists are [not] simply looking for a way to justify their evil deeds" (I'm ashamed to say I saw someone post this exact thing, once), because many of them feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit of God just as you do, but jot it down to social evolution or some other naturalistic cause. It also means that you need to be very careful in how you lay out these arguments, and leave no room for error of interpretation in how people read your argument.

To everyone on these forums in general, this means that calling each other "sociopathic" or suggesting they seek "mental health care", simply because they are demonstrating what they see as some very uncomfortable consequences of certain premises, is absolutely no longer welcome here.

If you cannot read your conversation partner charitably, I'm sure that Youtube or /r/ would love to have you.

Transposing the Problem of Objective Meaning.

At the time of writing this, there is currently something akin to a flame war occurring on this topic, and at least half a dozen reports in my work queue from posts in said flame war.

Now, I'm not going to retype everything I just said above in the Moral Argument section, and just change some of the nouns and verbs. People should be able to see how the above reasoning applies to the Problem of Objective Meaning.

However, one thing I will reiterate is that these kinds of conversations are taking place in think tanks and academic faculties around the world on a regular basis. Currently, there is a large discussion in some parts of Europe on the right to access euthanasia for those people in terrible pain or with terminal illnesses. That, under atheism, there is nothing waiting for us on the other side of deaths door, is a very valid point of discussion for philosophers and ethicists in modern times. As someone with ongoing spinal problems and chronic pain, I very much understand the appeal of oblivion over potential decades of meaningless agony.

What that Means for Forum Discussion

To the atheists in this community, if a Christian posts an argument about life being pointless under atheism, and introduces suicide as a possible alternative, understand that they are not advocating suicide. Again, just like the Moral Argument, they are challenging you to consider some potential implications of a naturalistic world view. Also, they are not lacking an sense of self worth and self actualisation, nor are they implying a lack off those traits in you. Rather, they're counting on your knowledge of those traits to challenge you to reconsider where those traits came from.

To the Christians in this community, this means that you need to be very careful and very respectful in how you lay out these arguments. Leave no room for error in what you are trying to say, and do not simply assume that everyone who reads your post will understand what you're getting at.

And, once again, because this does bear repeating:

To everyone on these forums in general, this means that calling each other "sociopathic" or suggesting they seek "mental health care", simply because they are demonstrating what they see as some very uncomfortable consequences of certain premises, is absolutely no longer welcome here.
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