#GodDebate: Mahlatse Winston Mashua, Eusebius and I talk God

I took part in a very interesting radio debate this morning, on the topic of whether or not God exists. As I said in one of my first remarks, the first question we’d need to resolve is “which God?”, because that question is perhaps one that separates many heathens and believers.

By which I mean simply this: the debate around the existence of god(s) allows for vast amounts of embedded assumptions, implied premises, special pleading, confirmation bias and the like. I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins’ approach to the religion debate at all, but he had it completely right in saying (paraphrased) that everyone knows what it’s like to be an atheist – I just go one god further than you.

If you take a look at the Twitter hashtag #GodDebate, you’ll see plenty of people simply reciting verses, or versions of extensively debated and largely debunked arguments (the Ontological, the Cosmological, the Teleological Argument, etc.). Basically, you’ll see many assertions presented as if they were argument, but that really just indicate that little critical reflection on the warrant for religious belief has taken place.

And then you’ll also see something I’m equally bothered by, which are crass insults towards religion and the religious, delivered by atheists, often accompanied by a smug certainty regarding the fact that we are right, and they are wrong.

I’ve said it many times, but I feel like I have a lot more in common with a thoughtful and compassionate believer than with many atheists. As I remarked on the show, I care far less for what people believe than for what they do, regardless of their motivations (not that these don’t matter at all).

Anyway – the discussion was, I think, civil and productive – even though this is a question that cannot be answered in a one-hour conversation.  My friend Eusebius McKaiser moderated it very well, giving both myself and Mahlatse plenty of time to speak, as well as including many contributions from listeners.

We’ll likely have another one soon, on religion and morality. I’ve debated with Christian apologists before, and unfortunately, they can sometimes lean towards deploying simple rhetorical tricks, or misrepresenting your position, in an attempt to secure “victory” – I’m pleased to say that Mahlatse was a fair and generous sparring partner, and I look forward to talking to him again.

Those who want to listen to the podcast of the conversation can find it on Radio702’s archive. And just in case you’re tempted to sermonise me in comments as some are doing on Twitter, please don’t waste your and my time doing so, as I won’t be approving comments of that nature.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.