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Is hypocrisy a necessary element in debate?

Asked by iamthemob (17123 points ) September 26th, 2010

PLEASE READ DETAILS. (sorry to shout ;-))

In a recent post on the relevance of the ten commandments today, Richard Dawkins was paraphrased as supporting the idea that we should question everything. Dawkins is notoriously (no connotation intended) atheistic when it comes to the Judeo-Christian concept of god. In asking whether atheism is a belief system, I’ve come to understand that atheism is not generally a belief so much as a skeptical approach to those arguing for a particular concept of god. Therefore, they argue that it is not their burden to show support for their position, as it is not a position so much as a critical approach to the position of others. Therefore, they assert they are rational as this “position” is the better one because in the end the basic beliefs of the other cannot be proven, and in the end that is no excuse for lack of support.

On the other side (as an example), those supporting the theory of evolution (as of course Dawkins does) take a position that the theory is true. From a scientific standpoint, this is of course different because there is data from which the theory is derived (and therefore is supportable in a manner that belief in god is not). In the end, however, it is an assertion in the same way that stating that god exists is an assertion. Therefore, a skeptical approach to evolution mandates that those taking the position that evolution is true have the burden of both (1) support the assertion with evidence, (2) show how the data is properly interpreted as evidence of the truth of their position, and (3) explain how contrary evidence does not undermine the theory. It should be inappropriate, therefore, to ask the skeptic to produce evidence to the contrary as a necessary prerequisite to a critical approach to the theory as it is requiring that the skeptic take a position that the theory is NOT true – essentially, to prove a negative. I encountered, however, this very strategy in a recent thread regarding those who criticize the theory of evolution.. In essence, this seems equivalent to former president Bush responding, when asked whether there was proof of WMDs, that he wouldn’t be proven wrong.

It seems then that atheists and evolutionary skeptics are in the same critical position, although there is one difference. Debate requires that one side take a position, and the other take the opposing (defined broadly) position, and that there be a winner. Therefore, debate is the inappropriate mechanism for discussion between god/evolution supporters and their respective skeptics. In both cases, you will find the majority of supporters attempting to force skeptics into taking a position, stating what they believe. The difference is that from the standpoint of debate in the scientific standpoint, the position supporting the theory can after rational thought be described as a good position, whereas this is impossible in the context of theistic debate (which does not mean that a position in favor of theism is without value). In neither case, however, does it mean that a skeptic is taking a position.

Therefore, isn’t debate an inappropriate framework for these discussions? If it is appropriate, doesn’t it inevitably lead to hypocritical techniques such as back-peddling, resort to apologetics, and fallacious burden-shifting? If not, why not?

Before responding, PLEASE at least scan the threads which have been linked. This is not a question regarding any of the above issues, and they are used as examples of the rhetorical devices in question. When you scan through, you will see that my contribution led to an emotional outburst that was inappropriate and hopefully uncommon for me, but rather common when debate is resorted to in these contexts, and has led me to the opinion that I should withdraw from contributing to the community.

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